This Far by Faith




About the Series

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
Styles of Worhsip: A First-hand Account 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
Styles of Worhsip: A First-hand Account

"After...his bacon and cabbage, the next dearest thing to a colored man, in the South, is his religion. I call it a 'thing' because they always speak of getting religion as if they were going to market for it." --William Wells Brown. "My Southern Home: The South and Its People." Boston: A.G. Bron. (1880)

Church service in Frank Leslie's Illustrated.

One of the most persistent debates among blacks, northern and southern and in all denominations, was over styles of worship and whether an educated ministry was necessary. William Wells Brown, an educated northerner who had escaped slavery in 1834, wrote a travelogue of the South in 1880. His criticism of southern black worship styles epitomized the arguments of those who saw an educated ministry as an answer to white claims that blacks could never become "civilized."

An excerpt from his book, My Southern Home: The South and Its People (published in Boston by A.G. Bron in 1880) follows.

The church was already well filled, and the minister had taken his text. As the speaker warmed up in his subject, the Sisters began to swing their heads and reel to and fro, and eventually began a shout. Soon, five or six were fairly at it, which threw the house into a buzz. Seats were soon vacated near the shouters, to give them more room, because the women did not wish to have their hats smashed in by the frenzied Sisters. As a woman sprung up in her sent, throwing up her long arms, with a loud scream, the lady on the adjoining seat quickly left, and did not stop till she got to a safe distance.

"Ah, ha!" exclaimed a woman near by, "'fraid of your new bonnet! Ain't got much religion, I reckon. Specks you'll have to come out of that if you want to save your soul."

"She thinks more of that hat now, than she does of a seat in heaven," said another.

"Never mind," said a third, "when she gets de witness, she'll drap dat hat an' shout herself out of breath."

The shouting now became general, a dozen or more entering into it most heartily…The meeting was kept up till a late hour, during which, four or five sisters becoming exhausted, had fallen upon the floor and lay there, or had been removed by their friends…

...It will be difficult to erase from the mind of the Negro of the South, the prevailing idea that outward demonstrations, such as shouting the loud "amen," and the most boisterous noise in prayer, are not necessary adjuncts to piety.

A young lady of good education and refinement, residing in East Tennessee, told me that she had joined the church about a year previous, and not until she had one shouting spell, did most of her Sisters believe that she had "the Witness."

"And did you really shout?" I inquired.

"Yes. I did it to stop their mouths, for at nearly every meeting, one or more would say, 'Sister Smith, I hope to live to see you show that you've got the Witness, for where the grace of God is, there will be shouting, and the sooner you comes to that point the better it will be for you in the world to come.' "

...The determination of late years to ape the whites in the erection of costly structures to worship in, is very injurious to our people…It is more consistent with piety and Godly sincerity to say that we don't believe there is any soul-saving and God-honoring element in such expensive and useless ornaments to houses in which to meet and humbly worship in simplicity and sincerity the true and living God, according to his revealed Will. Poor, laboring people who are without homes of their own, and without (in many instances) steady remunerative employment, can ill afford to pay high for useless and showy things that neither instruct nor edify them. The manner, too, in which the money is raised, is none of the best, to say the least of it. For most of the money, both to build the churches and to pay the ministers, is the hard earnings of men in the fields, at service, or by our women over the wash-tub. When our people met and worshipped in less costly and ornamental houses, their piety and sincerity was equally as good as now, if not better. With more polish within and less ornament without, we would be more spiritually and less worldly-minded.

Revival meetings, and the lateness of the hours at which they close, are injurious to both health and morals…I was informed of a young woman who lost her situation - a very good one - because the family could not sit up till twelve o'clock every night to let her in, and she would not leave her meeting so as to return earlier. Another source of moral degradation lies in the fact that a very large number of men, calling themselves "missionaries," travel the length and breadth of the country, stopping longest where they are best treated. The "missionary" is usually armed with a recommendation from some minister in charge, or has a forged one…His paper that he carries speaks of him as a man "gifted in revival efforts," and he at once sets about getting up a revival meeting. This tramp, for he cannot be called anything else, has with him generally a hymnbook, and an old faded, worn-out carpet-bag, with little or nothing in it. He remains in a place just as long as the people will keep him, which usually depends upon his ability to keep up an excitement. I met a swarm of these lazy fellows all over the South, the greatest number, however, in West Virginia.

The only remedy for this great evil lies in an educated ministry, which is being supplied to a limited extent. It is very difficult, however, to induce the uneducated, superstitious masses to receive and support an intelligent Christian clergyman.

- William Wells Brown, My Southern Home: The South and Its People, published in Boston by A.G. Bron in 1880.

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