Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
African American Lives
Profiles
Analyzing the Evidence
The Science and the Investigators
Who am I? A Genealogy Guide
Sharing Stories
For Educators
Resources
About the Series


Profiles
Intro
View Profiles:
Biography Looking Back
Photo of the Flat Rock Community sign


Churches and Community Building

The restrictive statutes known as Black Codes -- which began to undermine Reconstruction almost as it began, and were precursors to the regressive legislation of the Jim Crow era that took hold following the collapse of Reconstruction in the late 1870s -- severely limited the franchise, movements, economic opportunities, and employment choices of African Americans, creating conditions that at their worst differed from slavery only in name.

Without legal protections, African Americans saw that it was in their best interest to organize independent institutions that would support and sustain their lives. Throughout the country, African Americans organized mutual benefit societies and fraternal organizations. For many, membership in these associations not only enriched their social lives; membership also ensured economic well-being, and provided access to insurance and banking programs, health care, and education.

But in both urban and rural settings, churches became principal institutions in black community life. African American churches addressed congregants' spiritual and social needs through worship services, and through a variety of programs. Christianity may have been introduced to enslaved people by their masters, but as African Americans adopted the faith and incorporated aspects of the religion into their daily lives -- for enslaved Africans and free people of color in the so-called New World, Old Testament stories of the Israelites in captivity and God's promise of freedom and redemption held special appeal -- the black church developed into an invisible institution that helped to order the lives of enslaved people.

After the Civil War, African American churches in both Southern and Northern states served as centers for debate of the wide range of pressing issues and to contemplate, negotiate and enact social, cultural, political, and economic strategies for individual and collective self-preservation.

Meanwhile, in small and rural towns, African Americans contemplated how to retain community life despite the northern exodus of massive numbers of men women and children. Some communities formally incorporated as towns and settlements. By 1925, African Americans had founded at least 70 towns and settlements -- such as Mound Bayou, Mississippi and Langston, Oklahoma -- throughout the country.

Chris Tucker's ancestors recognized the special assets of their vibrant community of Flat Rock, Georgia, even as many of their neighbors planned to join the Great Migration. Theodore Bryant, Sr. -- Chris Tucker's great-grandfather -- opted against the move North. To encourage Flat Rock's residents to stay, Theodore Bryant acquired 45 acres of land, and began to sell small parcels -- lots as small as two acres -- to neighbors and members of Flat Rock United Methodist Church in an effort to retain the town's civic life.

email this page
print this page