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The History of Black Americans and the Black Church

The church and religion has played and continues to play a big role in the African-American community. Yet, many of us who grew up in the traditional black church do not have an understanding of how our faith evolved under the duress of slavery and discrimination to be and to represent what it does today. The purpose of this broadcast is to provide that background knowledge while also pointing out the dividing line between what is just tradition and true faith in Jesus Christ.
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Jun 5, 2015

Our Scripture verse for today is Romans 12:15 which reads: "Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all."

Our History of Black Americans and the Black Church quote for today is from Lee June, a professor at Michigan State University and the author of the book, "Yet With A Steady Beat: The Black Church through a Psychological and Biblical Lens." He said, "The historical situation of Blacks in America—mainly one of slavery and oppression—under normal circumstances would break one's spirit. But Blacks, armed with a hope in and vision of God and an opportunity to assemble together even under the rubric of the church as an 'invisible institution,' were able to encourage each other and to focus on the true Christian message. This life-giving message is deeply undergirded and sustained by and through hope. Even today one of the favorite hymns sung in many churches is, 'My Hope is Built on Nothing Less than Jesus' Blood and Righteousness.' Other historical songs as well as sermons infused with the good news of Christ were steeped in the element of hope."

In this podcast, we are using as our texts: From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America by E. Franklin Frazier, and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks. 

Our first topic for today is titled "The African Way of Life -- Religion (Part 1)" from the book, "From Slavery to Freedom" by John Hope Franklin. 

Certainly up to the period of the many European incursions into Africa the vast majority of the people engaged in religious practices that were indigenous to the continent. These practices were only outward manifestations of certain religious beliefs and, like symbols in other religions, they did not indicate the specific character of the religion. The religion of early Africans can most accurately be described as ancestor worship. Africans believed that the spirits of their ancestors had unlimited power over their lives. In this, as in almost every aspect of African life, the kinship group was important. It was devoutly believed that the spirit that dwelled in a relative was deified upon death and that it continued to live and take an active interest in the family. The spirits of early ancestors had been free to wield an influence for such a long time that they were much more powerful than the spirits of the more recently deceased, hence, the devout worship and the complete deification of early ancestors. Not only were the spirits of deceased members of the family worshipped, but a similar high regard was held for the spirits that dwelt on the family land, in the trees and rocks in the community of the kinship group, and in the sky above the community. 

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Our second topic for today is "The Institutional Church of the Free Negroes, Part 2" from The Negro Church in America by E. Franklin Frazier. He writes:

The Negroes who were free before the Civil War were concentrated in the areas where the plantation system of agriculture either had not taken root or had died out. They were to be found chiefly in the tidewater region of Virginia and Maryland and the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Moreover, there were settlements of free Negroes in the North and in the isolated communities of Negroes mixed with Indians. But the majority of free Negroes were concentrated in the cities both in the North and in the South. It was in the urban areas of the South that the free Negroes were able to achieve a secure position in the economic organization. 

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Our third and final topic for today is from "The Black Church in the U.S.: Its Origin, Growth, Contributions, and Outlook" by  Dr. William A. Banks. 

Today we are looking at the section titled, "Black Churches Led by Blacks, Part 1"

The third group, Black churches with Black leaders, also grew. At first the free Blacks in the North were mainly responsible for these independent assemblies. They could do this, even though there were restrictions upon them: “there were all kinds of restrictive laws against free Negroes as regards voting, holding civic offices, testifying in court against white men, purchasing white servants, intermarrying with whites. and associating with slaves in the South. Free Negroes were required to pay taxes, however. In the North, political and economic conditions were somewhat better, but earning a living was more precarious than in the South.”

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