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This Far by Faith

Journeys

Timeline

People

About the Series
Discussions

1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WA
1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
Next Journey
The Church: Independence, Community, Empowerment 1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER



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Timeline: 1866-1945 View Detailed Timeline
1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
The Church: Independence, Community, Empowerment



"They had faith in three things: a piece of land, the Hand of God, and the fact that All Men are Created Equal." --This Far by Faith, Episode 2: God is a Negro


The story of the church in the years following slavery is one of a mass exodus from white churches into black denominations. Blacks sought to exercise their newly won independence and power, while whites sought to retain their privilege. This struggle played itself out in the church, the center of community life for both blacks and whites in the South. Among the many choices freed people made, choosing a denominational affiliation became the most important - and, potentially, the most dangerous, as choosing the wrong denomination risked provoking the ire of former slavemasters and their confederates.


Outside church, taken by W.E.B. DuBois for Paris Expo in 1900.

Outside church, taken by W.E.B. DuBois for Paris Expo in 1900.


The Southern Methodist Episcopal Church had been the church most enslaved people attended. It claimed 208,000 black members. A year after the Civil War ended, only one-quarter of them remained. The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) and AME Zion established hierarchies of black bishops, deacons, ministers, and pastors that made them, effectively, churches with the soul of a nation.

The AME church in particular had a reputation because of its well-known role in the Denmark Vesey rebellion. Catholics and Methodists advocated integrated congregations, while the new Colored Methodist Episcopalian Church worked closely with what was left of the Confederate power structure.

By far the most independent-minded and democratic denomination was the Baptists, and in the spirit of independence that siezed black America following the war, it soon became the most popular church among the freed people. When the Southern Baptist Convention first organized in 1845, black Baptists outnumbered whites, even though blacks weren't given the same rights and privileges. In 1862, one quarter of the four million freed people called themselves Baptist. Over the next thirty years, that number would swell to 1.35 million. The non-hierarchical church structure - as well as what some have called the "enduring relationships" that would lead freed people to adopt the faiths of their former masters - led to explosive growth for the denomination. The spread of independent black Baptist congregations led leaders like Richard Henry Boyd and Elias Morris to form the National Baptist Convention in 1895.


A schoolhouse established to educate and train "colored" children in Charleston, SC, in 1866.

A schoolhouse established to educate and train "colored" children in Charleston, SC, in 1866.


Because churches were the one institution free from white influence, they became the center of the community's self-improvement effort. Hospitals, banks, and welfare societies sprang from church coffers. Church buildings provided school classrooms, or places for lectures and meetings. It was a place for voters to meet to walk to the polls. Ministers read letters from those separated during slavery.

Churches empowered the newly employed to protest unfair conditions, to renegotiate their contracts, to decide what and how much to plant, and to take time off to be with their families. They supported freed people as they acted on their will to marry, to remain with one spouse, and to raise their own children. Churches deepened the freed people's idea of the meaning of community. They provided a place where freemen and women with shared beliefs and goals could come together and fight against the constant threat of white militia attack.




People of Faith


 Daniel Payne
Daniel Payne

 Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass


Did You Know?



The formation of their own churches by blacks after the Civil War is known as "Religious Reconstruction."
more


"It was a whole race trying to go to school."
more


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