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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Dec 25, 2014

Our Scripture verse for today is Isaiah 53:5 which reads: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."

Our BA and BC quote for today is from civil rights activist, Ralph David Abernathy. He said, "Christians should be ready for a change because Jesus was the greatest changer in history."

In this podcast, we will be using as our texts From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America/The Black Church Since Frazier by E. Franklin Frazier and C. Eric Lincoln, and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks.

Let’s begin with John Hope Franklin’s book, From Slavery to Freedom, on the Christian influence on Africa amid the early European slave trade. He writes:

Doubtless, some Africans who were sold to the east and north during the period of Muslim domination found their way into the markets of Western Europe. It was not until the end of the fourteenth century, however, that Europeans themselves began to bring slaves into Europe. Both Spanish and Portuguese sailors were exploring the coast of Africa in the wake of the great wave of expansionism that had swept over Europe. They went to the Canary Islands and to innumerable ports on the mainland as far as the Gulf of Guinea. They took Africans to Europe and made servants of them, feeling justified in doing so because Africans would thereby have the opportunity to cast off their heathenism and embrace the Christian religion. By the middle of the fifteenth century, Europeans were selling in their home markets many African commodities, among them nuts, fruit, olive oil, gold, and slaves. Within a very few years, the slave trade became an accepted and profitable part of European commerce. Largely under the encouragement of Prince Henry, the sailors and merchants of Portugal early saw the economic advantages that the African slave trade afforded. By the time of his death in 1460, 700 or 800 slaves were being transported to Portugal annually. 

The last half of the fifteenth century may be considered the years of preparation in the history of the slave trade. Europeans, mainly Spaniards and Portuguese, were establishing orderly trade relations with Africans and were erecting forts and trading posts from which to carry on their business. It was the period in which Europeans were becoming accustomed to having black Africans do their work and were exploring the possibilities of finding new tasks for them. Europeans were attempting to settle among themselves the question of who should and who should not engage in the traffic, and the mad scramble for monopoly even before the close of the century is indicative of the importance with which that traffic was regarded. Finally, this was the period in which Europeans developed a rationalization for their deeds based on Christianity. The Portuguese and the Spaniards led Europeans in invoking the missionary zeal of Christianity to justify their activities on the African coast. If they were chaining Africans together for the purpose of consigning them to a lifetime of enforced servitude, it was a "holy cause" in which they had the blessings of both their king and their church. 

Now, our main topic for today is titled, "The Religion of the Slaves: The Christian Religion Provides a New Basis of Social Cohesion". Frazier writes:

It is our position that it was not what remained of African culture or African religious experience but the Christian religion that provided the new basis of social cohesion. It follows then that in order to understand the religion of the slaves, one must study the influence of Christianity in creating solidarity among a people who lacked social cohesion and a structured social life. 


From the beginning of the importation of slaves into the colonies, Negroes received Christian baptism. The initial opposition to the christening of Negroes gradually disappeared when laws made it clear that slaves did not become free through the acceptance of the Christian faith and baptism. Although slaves were regularly baptized and taken into the Anglican church during the seventeenth century, it was not until the opening of the eighteenth century that a systematic attempt was made on the part of the Church of England to Christianize Negroes in America. This missionary effort was carried out by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts which was chartered in England in 1701. When the Indians in South Carolina proved to be so hostile to the first missionary sent out by the Society, he turned his attention to Negro and Indian slaves.

Unfortunately, we do not possess very detailed records on the religious behavior of the Negroes who became converts to Christianity through the missionary efforts of the Society, nor did the missionaries who worked under the auspices of the Moravians, Quakers, Presbyterians, and Catholics leave illuminating accounts of the response of the Negro slaves to the Gospel.

Dec 20, 2014

Our Scripture verse for today is Genesis 41:41-43 which reads: "And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt."

Our BA and BC quote for today is from Jamaican political and civil leader Marcus Garvey. He said, "We profess to live in the atmosphere of Christianity, yet our acts are as barbarous as if we never knew Christ. He taught us to love, yet we hate; to forgive, yet we revenge; to be merciful, yet we condemn and punish, and still we are Christians…. To be a true Christian one must be like Christ and practice Christianity."

In this podcast, we will be using as our texts From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America/The Black Church Since Frazier by E. Franklin Frazier and C. Eric Lincoln and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks.

Let’s begin with John Hope Franklin’s book, From Slavery to Freedom as he deals with how African servitude moved toward becoming African slavery in colonial America:

As time went on Virginia fell behind in satisfying the labor needs of the colony with Indians and indentured servants. It was then that the colonists began to give serious thought to the "perpetual servitude" of blacks. Virginians began to see what neighboring islands in the Caribbean had already recognized, namely, that blacks could not easily escape without being identified; that they could be disciplined, even punished, with impunity since they were not Christians; and that the supply was apparently inexhaustible. Black labor was precisely what Virginia needed in order to speed up the clearing of the forests and the cultivation of larger and better tobacco crops. All that was required was legislative approval of a practice in which many Virginians were already engaged. Indeed, by 1640, some Africans in Virginia had become bond servants for life. The distinction between black and white servants was becoming well established. In that year, when three runaway servants, two white and one black, were recaptured, the court ordered the white servants to serve their master one additional year. The black servant, however, was ordered "to serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere." Thus, within the first generation of Virginia's existence, African servitude was well on the way to becoming African slavery. 

Now, our main topic for today is titled, "The Religion of the Slaves: The Loss of Social Cohesion". Frazier writes:

It is evident that the manner in which Negroes were captured and enslaved and inducted into the plantation regime tended to loosen all social bonds among them and to destroy the traditional basis of social cohesion. In addition, the organization of labor and the system of social control and discipline on the plantation both tended to prevent the development of social cohesion either on the basis of whatever remnants of African culture might have survived or on the basis of the Negroes' role in the plantation economy. Although the Negroes were organized in work gangs, labor lost its traditional African meaning as a cooperative undertaking with communal significance. In fact, there was hardly a community among the slaves despite the fact that on the larger plantations there were slave quarters. These slave quarters were always under the surveillance of the overseer. On the smaller plantations which included, as we have seen, the majority of the plantations, the association between master and slave became the basis of a new type of social cohesion. 

Let us consider next a factor of equal if not greater importance in the plantation regime that tended to destroy all social cohesion among the slaves. I refer to the mobility of the slave population which resulted from the fact that the plantation in the Southern States was a commercial form of agriculture requiring the buying and selling of slaves. There has been much controversy about the slave trade because of its dehumanizing nature. Curiously enough, southern apologists for slavery deny, on the one hand, that there was a domestic slave trade while, on the other hand, they insist that slave traders were despised and were regarded as outcasts in southern society." There were defenders, however, of the system who frankly acknowledged that slave-trading was indispensable to the slave system. The Charleston Mercury, for example, stated that "Slaves...are as much and as frequently articles of commerce as the sugar and molasses which they produce." This opinion has been confirmed by the study of the practice during slavery. The slave trade, we may conclude, was one of the important factors that tended toward the atomization and dehumanizing of the slaves. 

The possibility of establishing some basis for social cohesion was further reduced because of the difficulty of communication among the slaves. If by chance slaves who spoke the same African language were thrown together, it was the policy on the part of the masters to separate them. In any case it was necessary for the operation of the plantation that the slaves should learn the language of their masters and communication among slaves themselves was generally carried on in English. In recent years a study has revealed that among the relatively isolated Negroes on the Sea Islands along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, many African words have been preserved in the Negro dialect known as Gullah. But the very social isolation of these Negroes is an indication of the exceptional situation in which some remnants of African languages were preserved in the American environment. It is important to note that, according to the author of this study, the use of African modes of English speech and African speech survivals were used only within the family group. This brings us to the most important aspect of the loss of social cohesion among the Negroes as the result of enslavement. 

The enslavement of the Negro not only destroyed the traditional African system of kinship and other forms of organized social life but it made insecure and precarious the most elementary form of social life which tended to sprout anew, so to speak, on American soil—the family. There was, of course, no legal marriage and the relation of the husband and father to his wife and children was a temporary relationship dependent upon the will of the white masters and the exigencies of the plantation regime. Although it was necessary to show some regard for the biological tie between slave mother and her offspring, even this relationship was not always respected by the masters. Nevertheless, under the most favorable conditions of slavery as, for example, among the privileged skilled artisans and the favored house servants, some stability in family relations and a feeling of solidarity among the members of the slave households did develop. This, in fact, represented the maximum social cohesion that was permitted to exist among the transplanted Negroes. 

There have been some scholars who have claimed that social cohesion among the slaves was not destroyed to the extent to which it is presented here. For example, DuBois evidently thought that social cohesion among the slaves was not totally destroyed. For in one of his studies of Negro life he makes the assertion that the Negro church was "the only social institution among the Negroes which started in the African forest and survived slavery" and that "under the leadership of the priest and medicine man" the church preserved the remnants of African tribal life." From the available evidence, including what we know of the manner in which the slaves were Christianized and the character of their churches, it is impossible to establish any continuity between African religious practices and the Negro church in the United States. It is more likely that what occurred in America was similar to what Mercier has pointed out in regard to the Fon of Dahomey. His studies showed that with the breaking up or destruction of the clan and kinship organization, the religious myths and cults lost their significance. In America the destruction of the clan and kinship organization was more devastating and the Negroes were plunged into an alien civilization in which whatever remained of their religious myths and cults had no meaning whatever.  

Dec 12, 2014

The History of Black Americans and the Black Church


Welcome to episode #1 of the The History of Black Americans and the Black Church podcast. My name is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. Since it is hard to separate Black American history and Black Church history I am combining the two. Though it will sometimes seem as if we are on two different tracks, I am combining the two because they are so intertwined. As many of you know, 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.


Our Scripture verse for today is Luke 23:26 which reads: “And as they led [Jesus] away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.”


Our BA and BC quote for today is from the educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune. She said, “Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”


In this podcast, we will be using as our texts From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America/The Black Church Since Frazier by E. Franklin Frazier and C. Eric Lincoln and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks.

Let’s begin with John Hope Franklin’s book, From Slavery to Freedom as he deals with early Christianity in Africa:


Christianity became entrenched in North Africa early. It was there when Islam made its appearance in the seventh century, and these two great faiths engaged in a life-and-death struggle for the control of that area. In West Africa, where the population was especially dense and from which the great bulk of slaves was secured, Christianity was practically unknown until the Portuguese began to establish missions in the area in the sixteenth century. It was a strange religion, this Christianity, which taught equality and brotherhood and at the same time introduced on a large scale the practice of tearing people from their homes and transporting them to a distant land to become slaves. If the Africans south of the Sahara were slow to accept Christianity, it was not only because they were attached to their particular forms of communal worship but also because they did not have the superhuman capacity to reconcile the contradictory character of the new religion.


Now, our main topic for today is titled, “The Religion of the Slaves: the Break With the African Background”. Frazier writes:


In studying any phase of the character and the development of the social and cultural life of the Negro in the United States, one must recognize from the beginning that because of the manner in which the Negroes were captured in Africa and enslaved, they were practically stripped of their social heritage. Although the area in West Africa from which the majority of the slaves were drawn exhibits a high degree of cultural homogeneity, the capture of many of the slaves in intertribal wars and their selection for the slave markets tended to reduce to a minimum the possibility of the retention and the transmission of African culture. The slaves captured in the intertribal wars were generally males and those selected for the slave markets on the African coasts were the young and the most vigorous. This was all in accordance with the demands of the slave markets in the New World. One can get some notion of this selective process from the fact that it was not until 1840 that the number of females equalled the number of males in the slave population of the United States! Young males, it will be readily agreed, are poor bearers of the cultural heritage of a people.


But the manner in which the slaves were held for the slave ships that transported them to the New World also had an important influence upon the transmission of the African social heritage to the new environment. They were held in baracoons, a euphemistic term for concentration camps at the time, where the slaves without any regard for sex or family and tribal affiliations were kept until some slaver came along to buy a cargo for the markets of the New World. This period of dehumanization was followed by the "middle passage," the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the slave markets of the West Indies and finally the indigo, tobacco, and cotton plantations of what was to become later the United States. During the "middle passage," the Negroes were packed spoon-fashion in the slave ships, where no regard was shown for sex or age differences, not to mention such matters as clan and tribal differences. In fact, no regard was shown for such elementary social, or shall I say human, considerations as family ties.


In the New World the process by which the Negro was stripped of his social heritage and thereby, in a sense, dehumanized was completed. There was first the size of the plantation, which had a significant influence upon the extent and nature of the contacts between the slaves and the whites. On the large sugar and cotton plantations in the Southern States there was, as in Brazil and the West Indies, little contact between whites and the Negro slaves. Under such conditions there was some opportunity for the slaves to undertake to re-establish their old ways. As a matter of fact, however, the majority of slaves in the United States were on small farms and small plantations. In some of the upland cotton regions of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and

Arkansas the median number of slaves per holding did not reach twenty; while in regions of general agriculture based mainly upon slave labor in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee the median number of slave holdings was even smaller.


Then slaves freshly imported from Africa were usually "broken in" to the plantation regime. According to the descriptions given by a traveler in Louisiana, the new slaves were only "gradually accustomed to work. They are made to bathe often, to take long walks from time to time, and especially to dance; they are distributed in small numbers among old slaves in order to dispose them better to acquire their habits." Apparently from all reports, these new slaves with their African ways were subjected to the disdain, if not hostility, of Negroes who had become accommodated to the plantation regime and had acquired the ways of their new environment.


Of what did accommodation to their new environment consist? It was necessary to acquire some knowledge of the language of whites for communication. Any attempt on the part of the slaves to preserve or use their native language was discouraged or prohibited. They were set to tasks in order to acquire the necessary skills for the production of cotton or sugar cane. On the small farms very often the slaves worked in the fields with their white owners. On the larger plantations they were under the strict discipline of the overseer, who not only supervised their work but who also in the interest of security maintained a strict surveillance over all their activities. It was a general rule that there could be no assembly of five or more slaves without the presence of a white man. This applied especially to their gathering for religious purposes. Later we shall see how the slaves were soon introduced into the religious life of their white masters. All of this tended to bring about as completely as possible a loss of the Negro's African cultural heritage.


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On our next episode, we will look at the loss of social cohesion among the slaves.


In closing, allow me to say that like many of you, I grew up in a very religious and church-going family, and during that time, I often heard the phrase "Being Saved." Now, much of what church people said “being saved” was I now know is wrong according to the Bible. I wrote an article about it titled “On ‘Being Saved’ in Black America” which is available for you to read free of charge on our website, Right now, I want to share with you very briefly what the Bible says “being saved” really is.


First, understand that you need to be saved because you are a sinner. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Second, understand that a horrible punishment -- eternal Hell -- awaits those who are not saved. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus Christ said that God will say to those who are not saved, “depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Third, realize that God loves you very much and wants to save you from Hell. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you want to be saved from Hell and be guaranteed a home in Heaven, simply believe in Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose from the dead for your sins, and then call upon the Lord in prayer and ask Him to save your soul. And believe me, He will. Romans 10:9-13 says, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."


Until next time, may God richly bless you.