1866-1945: From Emancipation to Jim Crow
The End of War
God will surely speak Peace when his work is accomplished… Then the millennium will dawn. Our race that has been afflicted and downtrodden shall then stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Henry McNeal
The Civil War was over. Across the nation, freed slaves rejoiced. God's prophecy had been fulfilled. They had found Freedom. Freedom! The Promised Land! They believed that they would now be able to enjoy their newfound citizenship. But a new struggle was replacing the old one.
Henry McNeal Turner would emerge as one of the leaders in this struggle. Self-taught and ambitious, Turner had already achieved renown as a Methodist minister and had preached widely throughout the South. But African-Americans could not be more than itinerant preachers within the southern Methodist tradition. Thus, when Turner heard of a church where black men could become bishops, he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Daniel Payne, a senior bishop in that church, took Turner under his wing and became his mentor.
When the Civil War began, Turner served as pastor at Israel AME Church in southeast Washington, D.C. He took advantage of his proximity to the wheels of power to become one of those lobbying for the enlistment of black troops. In the process, he became good friends with Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Sumner subsequently visited Turner's church. By some accounts, Stanton became pivotal in swaying President Abraham Lincoln's mind towards enlisting black soldiers.
Despite Lincoln's ambivalence on the race question, African-Americans perceived him as the Moses sent to lead the enslaved from freedom or the Jesus of Liberty. When he was assassinated on Good Friday, 1865, the latter appellation stuck.
DID YOU KNOW Who are the Black Civil War Re-Enactors?
The Black Civil War Re-Enactors
The Black Civil War Re-Enactors, depicted in Show Two of This Far by Faith, are members of the 1st SC Volunteers. In real life they are doctors, school superintendents, ministers - and almost all of them know of an ancestor (for some it's a white ancestor!) who fought in the Civil War.
They are not just men playing in uniform. Many have studied the life of a particular person who fought in the war. They sleep outside as the men (and women) did; they eat similar food; they sing the same songs; they draw lots to decide who will "die" on the battlefield. This is their way of honoring their ancestors.
DID YOU KNOW Susie King Taylor was the only black woman known to write about her participation in the Civil War.
Susan King Taylor
Susie King Taylor kept a diary about her participation in the Civil War. Most of her wartime activities were centered in South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Born a slave in Georgia in 1848, Susie Baker (she later became Susie King Taylor) gained her freedom in April 1862. She, along with a number of her family members, was enlisted in a newly-formed regiment of black soldiers, the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops (initially the 1st South Carolina Volunteers). Before long her responsibilities multiplied due to her nursing skills and her ability to read and write.
After the war Taylor opened a night school in Savannah for freed people. She became a founding member of the 67 Women's Relief Corps and was elected president in 1893.
You can read Susie King Taylor's civil war diary at:
DID YOU KNOW President Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday.
President Lincoln: The "Jesus of Liberty"
When President Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, 1865, it only increased the myths around him as "the Jesus of Liberty driving out the Herod of Tyranny." Ministers, black and white, had long preached that the country would have to redeem itself for the sin of slavery. Among many, the Civil War was seen as a plague visited upon the United States and Lincoln's death as the means to redeem the nation's sins. But it was also understood as a dark day for black Americans, as it elevated Andrew Jackson, who was sympathetic to the south, to the presidency.
New Freedom, New Challenges
Freedom, as I understand it, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage, and placing us where we could reap the fruit of our labor, take care of ourselves, and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom. Minister Garrison Frazier, in reply to a question from General Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army, January 12, 1865
President Lincoln had been ambivalent about ending slavery. "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union," he said in his inaugural address of 1860, "and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."
Yet ultimately he did end slavery, and African-Americans everywhere rejoiced at the prospect and embraced the Republican Party. For those who had been enslaved, freedom brought the ability to make choices about how they would look, act, work, live, and be. Some former slaves found themselves homeless, jobless, and without clothes or shelter. Many froze to death in the bitterly cold winter that followed the end of the Civil War. Still, freedom meant autonomy, the ability to travel, and the right to refuse to take orders from or pay obeisance to whites.
Freed people regarded surnames as a sign of respect, and began choosing their own last names. When they chose the last names of their masters, it was more out of convenience than out of any affection for the master. When one black soldier was asked, "Do you want to be called by your old master's name?" he replied: "No sur, I don't. I's had 'nuff o' ole massa."
Four million people moved through the process of choosing jobs, building institutions, and raising families. They negotiated terms with the Union Army, the Freedman's bureau, southern whites and landowners, southern governments, Congress, religious bodies, and the Ku Klux Klan. All of these groups had a stake in defining what freedom would mean for blacks - where it would be expanded and what its limits would be.
They came out of slavery with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the faith in their hearts that tomorrow would be a brighter day. They had already survived the darkest nights of bondage.
DID YOU KNOW The first Civil Rights laws were passed shortly after the Civil War.
The Black Codes
After emancipation, the slaves were free but had no legal status. The 13th & 14th Amendments granted full citizenship to black Americans and formally abolished slavery. Southern states were not allowed back in the Union until they ratified these amendments. In response, these states adopted so-called Black Codes, laws that restricted the rights of blacks in all areas of life, such as the right to vote, sit on juries or testify against whites, or carry arms in public. Vagrancy laws required blacks to prove they were employed - or risk arrest. Yearlong work contracts established indentured servitude anew. Some states, like Mississippi, required children to work off the "debts" of their parents. These laws remained in effect until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Reconstruction: Perseverance and Community through Faith
"We want to treat (the confederates) kindly and live in friendship; yet I must say…that as soon as old things can be forgotten, or all things become common, that the Southern people will take us by the hand and welcome us to their respect and regard. Henry McNeal Turner
The process called "Reconstruction" was a complex series of steps taken by the president, Congress, and the states in response to the chaos that followed the end of the Civil War. Four million freed people needed to be absorbed into the new economy, but the South had no economy; its means of production had been destroyed. Political systems needed to be recreated. Finally, blacks and whites alike had to get used to new ways of relating to each other.
Despite the intense hatred and threat of violence they confronted daily, freed blacks relied on their faith in God and support from ministers and churches in their effort to build a new South. They exercised their new rights as citizens by participating for the first time in the elections of 1867. They hoped that having the vote would ensure a redistribution of land, better schools, equal opportunity for jobs, and equal access to public facilities. During this period of "Political Reconstruction," over a hundred black ministers won election to legislative seats. Many tried to build political coalitions with their white partners, but it was clear that it was not to be.
By 1870, white confederates began to prevail in the post-Civil War battle for political control of the South. The Supreme Court ruled that the 15th Amendment did not give blacks the right to vote; it just prevented them from being discriminated against. Virginia and North Carolina fell back into the hands of the Democratic Party. Georgia soon followed suit. The staunch abolitionists of the Republican Party, including Charles Sumner, died. The abolitionist wing was replaced by Republicans more concerned about the industrial interests of the North than the cause of the freed people. On top of all this, the country fell into an economic depression.
Federal troops maintained a presence during the day, but at night, white militias terrorized blacks and their white allies. Caricatured images of blacks in Southern journals portrayed them as uncivilized beings with wanton appetites. These images even began appearing in Northern journals like Harper's Weekly, which had been on the side of the abolitionists before the war. As the battle between confederates and reconstructionists grew in the south over the next seven years, so did northern fatigue with the whole situation. Then, in 1876, federal troops were withdrawn from the south as the result of a deal Andrew Hayes made in order to win a tight presidential race.
For the freed people it must have felt, once again, as though they had been cast into the wilderness. There they were, at the mercy of their former slavemasters, surrounded by poor whites who still felt that blacks were not fully human. But instead of collapsing, they turned within and built one of the most powerful institutions in the United States: the Black Church.
DID YOU KNOW White southerners called the end of Reconstruction "Redemption."
The "Redemption" of the South
According to Dr. James Campbell, southern whites saw Reconstruction as a tragic era in which African-Americans who were ill-equipped for freedom were given political rights for which they weren't prepared. They perceived it as a decade of complete corruption, led by opportunistic, northern Carpetbaggers. In these southerners' eyes, order and decorum were restored with the so-called Southern Redemption, when they finally regained political control of their states. This interpretation drives the film Birth of a Nation, and was prevalent in textbooks through the 1940s and 50s. From the perspective of black people, of course, this era of increasingly legitimized racial violence was anything but redemption.
DID YOU KNOW The first vote in which emancipated blacks participated was in 1867.
The First Vote
Despite the intense hatred and threat of violence they confronted daily, freed blacks exercised their new rights as citizens by participating in politics for the first time during the elections of 1867. (White confederates who had fought against the Union, however, were barred from voting for the first year after the war.) Over 1,500 African-Americans were elected to office - and more than 200 were ordained ministers. During this period, called "Political Reconstruction," over a hundred black ministers won election to legislative seats. Many tried to build political coalitions with their white partners, but it was clear that it was not to be. Soon after being elected, the black legislators were forced out by white politicians.
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. Show 2, This Far by Faith
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.
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 seized 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.
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.
DID YOU KNOW The formation of their own churches by blacks after the Civil War is known as "Religious Reconstruction."
During the 1960s, black activist Martin Luther King, Jr. would call Sunday morning, when most Americans go to church, "the most segregated hour in America." The seeds of that segregation were sown at the end of the Civil War, as four million freed people fled the white churches where they had been forced to worship as second-class citizens, and formed their own denominations. Competition among Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, AME, and Presbyterian sects was furious as missionaries flowed from the North to the South in what religious historians refer to as "Religious Reconstruction."
DID YOU KNOW "It was a whole race trying to go to school."
An Emphasis on Education
Education became a primary mission for freed people, with the churches often leading the effort to build schools. Groups such as the American Missionary Association arranged for teachers to travel south to instruct soldiers and civilians, and the educated children of free black northerners went south in an attempt to "uplift the race." The Freedmen's Bureau established 740 schools with more than one thousand white and African-American teachers. Southern states developed school systems financed by public funds. Colleges, such as Wilberforce in Ohio, Talladega in Florida, Fisk in Georgia, and Arkansas Baptist grew during this period as whites refused to allow desegregated schools. Children attended schools during the day and their parents attended at night. For many of the freed people, it was their deeply felt religious convictions and their desire to read the Bible that gave them the incentive to learn to read.
Sojourner Truth: A Promised Land for the Exodusters
We believe that the freed colored people in and about Washington, dependent upon Government for support, would be greatly benefited and might become useful citizens by being placed in a position to support themselves: We, the undersigned, therefore earnestly request your honorable body to set apart for them a portion of the public land in the West, and erect buildings thereon for the aged and infirm, and otherwise so to legislate as to secure the desired results. Sojourner Truth, petition to Congress, 1871
The Exodusters were southern blacks who fled violence and the threat of a return to slavery in the Reconstructionist south. They relocated to Kansas, spontaneously fulfilling the prayers of Sojourner Truth, who believed that God would lead the freed people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.
In the fall of 1864, Sojourner Truth traveled to Washington, D.C. to work in refugee camps set up by the government to administer to the freed people escaping the ravages of the Civil War. She taught sewing, knitting, and cooking, and gave speeches in which she exhorted the freed people to "learn to be independent - learn industry and economy - and above all strive to show the people that they could be something." This plain talk, along with admonitions not to live "off the government," got her thrown out of at least one gathering of freed people.
When the U.S. economy fell into a slump at the end of the war, fiscal and political pressures led to the closing of the Freedmen's Bureau and their camps in 1868. Truth and other volunteers attempted to keep the Bureau's efforts alive, particularly by finding employment, usually in northern cities, for the refugees. Although they secured work for over 8,000 refugees between 1865 and 1868, they were ultimately foiled by a slow labor market, and by the reluctance on the part of refugees to relocate to unknown cities away from their families.
For Truth, the plight of the refugees was particularly distressing. Unemployment was a moral issue for her, for only through work would black men and women free themselves from government handouts and stride ahead. As an itinerant preacher, Truth had little sympathy for those unwilling to journey in search of a goal. She saw the answer to the refugees' problems in an exodus, or resettlement to the West. She believed the government should allot lands to freed people, similar to Indian reservations. Her plan was cast in Biblical terms:
"I have prayed so long that my people would go to Kansas, and that God would make straight the way before them. Yes, indeed! I think it is a good move for them. I believe as much in that move as I do in the moving of the children of Egypt going out to Canaan, just as much." ("Memorial" chapter of Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 19)
Truth wrote a petition to Congress, and then traveled the East coast, speaking and collecting signatures, between August of 1870 and March of 1871. Although her speeches were not always as powerful as they once had been - her age was catching up with her-she remained focused on her mission to secure lands for resettlement.
When a letter arrived from Byron Smith, a Kansas land agent posing as a supporter, Truth saw it as a sign from God. Kansas, home of the martyred John Brown and a Republican majority, was a powerful symbol and a desirable destination for freed people. But while traveling in Kansas and Missouri for six months between 1871 and 1872, Truth received a lukewarm reception. Audiences found her plan vague and her speaking often "disjointed."
Truth traveled to Washington to present her petition to Congress in 1874. No records show that the petition was ever submitted, however, and Truth told a reporter in 1882 that it was ignored. She was forced to leave Washington for Michigan that same year when her grandson, Samuel Banks, fell ill and then later died.
Her dreams were finally realized in 1879 with the spontaneous exodus to Kansas of tens of thousands of poor blacks from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee. Between 1860 and 1880 the black population of Kansas swelled from 627 to over 43,000 as blacks, fearful of the growing white supremacy and violence in the South, sought a safer life in western states and territories.
DID YOU KNOW Home is an all-black town.
Nicodemus, Kansas and Allensworth, California, were just two of the numerous all-black towns that the western migrants established.
In the fall of 1780, Tye led another attack on a hated Patriot leader, Josiah Huddy. Tye was shot through the wrist during this attack and died from infection from the wound. By then, however, he had earned the respect of soldiers on both sides.
DID YOU KNOW The biblical story of Exodus was used to encourage the faithful to trust in God to lead them to freedom.
A New Exodus
As political violence grew worse in the South, the need for new solutions to the age-old problem of inequality intensified. Many thought that the only way to find peace was to abandon the South. Once again, the story of Exodus was used to encourage the faithful to trust in God to lead His people to the Chosen Land of freedom. But where was this new land? For some, the North was the logical choice. Others gave up on America altogether, believing that salvation for black people would only be found away from whites, in South America, Mexico, or Africa. And then there were those who refused to give up on the dream of peace and prosperity in the South.
DID YOU KNOW In the winter of 1877-78, a group of blacks attempted their own migration - back to the African homeland.
The Steamship Azor
In the winter of 1877-78, a group of black leaders in Charleston (including Martin Delany) chartered the steamship Azor and took 206 black emigrants back to Africa. This was no trip sponsored by whites who wanted to rid the country of blacks, but an expedition of blacks yearning to be free of the South's "redeemed" whites. This trip sparked great excitement in the back to African movement. In South Carolina, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, entire communities sold their land and belongings and headed east for the steamships. Many of these families were swindled by unscrupulous brokers. They got east, found no ships waiting for them, and then had no land to return to.
Styles of Worship: 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.
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
DID YOU KNOW Why do they shout in church?
Shouting Their Faith
James Cone says southern blacks shout during church services because they have a lot to shout about. Their pain and suffering are expressed through music, preaching, shouting, and prayer, and then transformed into a spirit of resistance.
DID YOU KNOW What was the Southern Gospel Movement?
The Southern Gospel Movement
During the 1880s, the Social Gospel movement sprang up among churches. It aimed to challenge the status quo and to campaign for social justice. It embraced equal rights, women's rights, and the need to nurture the poor. There were some, however, who saw this movement as a rejection of experiential Christianity. They turned to a revival of the Holiness Movement, with an emphasis on receiving God's grace for sanctification, or freedom from sin.
The National Baptist Convention, Inc.: Entrepreneurship, Education, and Faith
Dare to be a Daniel
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to Make it known!
Elias Camp Morris, quoting from a hymn
By the very end of the 1800s, 1.7 million blacks had joined the Baptist denomination. Baptists had built more schools and colleges than any other church group. They were fiercely independent, but this also made them weak. It would fall to Elias Camp Morris, a Baptist preacher who had settled in Helena, Arkansas, to change all that.
Morris, born a slave in Spring Place, Georgia, in 1855, had migrated west along with thousands of other blacks in the wake of Reconstruction. Within a year he had become active in the Republican Party and the local Baptist churches. By 1879, he had organized the Baptist churches within the counties of Phillips, Lee, and Monroe, into an Association.
At that time, Arkansas' black Baptists were split into two factions over the question of leadership and their relationship with white Baptists. Two freeborn northerners led one faction; former slaves and southerners led the other. The 1880s saw a steady shift towards southern leadership as southern blacks chafed against what they saw as high-handed leadership from their northern brethren. By 1882, Morris, taking charge of the southern faction, had organized an Arkansas Baptist Convention. Then he methodically began building the institutions that would strengthen the black Baptist churches nationally, and deprive northern critics of the argument that black southern Baptists were illiterate and stupid.
Morris started a newspaper and a publishing house, and then five institutions of higher learning: Arkansas Baptist College; Benedict College in South Carolina; Wayland Seminary in Virginia; Selma University in Alabama, and Augusta Institute (now Morehouse College) in Georgia.
Morris was active in the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention in the 1880s. That group, after a long debate, united with the National Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Education Convention to form the National Baptist Convention, Inc., in 1895. Elias Camp Morris had insisted on incorporation, because to him, the church could not exist separate from its business interests. He was elected the NBC's first president, a post he would hold for 27 years.
Throughout his life, Morris argued for the need of the black church to tend to the material as well as the spiritual realm of its congregants' lives. Education meant nothing, he argued, if there were no professions open to the newly educated. "The solution of the so-called race problem," he wrote, "will depend in a large measure upon what we prove able to do for ourselves." For him, entrepreneurship and faith went hand in hand. Through the institutions he helped build, especially the publishing board, Morris created a way for blacks to employ themselves and their children, publish their own hymns, and build their own houses of worship.
DID YOU KNOW Southern black and white Baptists sometimes worked together.
Working Together to Spread the Word
Elias Morris fostered cooperation between black and white Baptists. He was sometimes criticized for publishing hymnals and prayer books that were exactly the same as the white Baptists' - except for the cover. He readily admitted that "black backs, white guts" was his method of operation. As he worked to build his organization, he relied on the largess of former slaveowners. As Colored Methodist Episcopal Bishop Lane put it in explaining his own denomination's relationship with the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church, "There was a fraternal sympathy, a mutual good will, a kindly interest that made the relation cordial and highly helpful."
DID YOU KNOW Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was a movement towards accommodation to segregation philosophy.
A Change in Philosophy
The black Christian militancy and nationalism of slave folk, exemplified by Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, began to recede by the end of the nineteenth century. In its stead, the "do for self" philosophy, advocated by younger men like Booker T. Washington, gained popularity. White conservative evangelists, who focused on the ideal of a passive, suffering Christ, also championed that philosophy. Many blacks, however, saw "do for self" as accommodating white segregationists and damaging in its potential to marginalize African-Americans.
The Great Migration: New Opportunities, New Tensions
"...On a one-way ticket -
Gone up North,
Gone out West,
Almost all black Americans currently living in the North have family roots in the South. Their parents and grandparents were among the more than a million black southerners who migrated to the North in search of better lives during the period between the first and second World Wars. This period in history is commonly known as the "Great Migration."
The impact of the Great Migration on African-American history is as significant as the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement. The Migration was born out of the Reconstruction era, when newly-freed blacks were denied economic retribution and representation in government. Then came the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, which effectively legalized segregation by allowing for "separate but equal" accommodations for blacks and whites. In reality, they were separate and unequal, and, as Louis Lomax put it, "inequality is the Siamese twin of injustice." The belief that the North held the key to better jobs, less discrimination, and political rights motivated tens of thousands of African-Americans to migrate from South to North, from countryside to city. The African-American quest for justice and freedom had survived three hundred years of slavery. Now, they were determined to share in the prosperity enjoyed by their fellow Americans. As during slavery, the way to freedom and a better life lay due North.
Class-consciousness and aspirations for social mobility in the early 1900s divided black Christians. Established black middle-class churches failed to attract the migrants who increased the city's black population by a factor of ten within thirty years. The staid, reserved services made rural blacks feel unwelcome. They could not dress well enough, nor tithe high enough, to please these "silk stocking" churchgoers, who themselves had been poor and downtrodden only a generation before. These "old-line" churches were interested in assimilating mainstream American values and practices. For instance, they used choirs that sang European devotional music and did not permit the singing of "devil songs" and "jumped-up" songs, as the blues were commonly termed.
The new arrivals wanted to worship in places where they could feel the power of God in their bodies and express God's grace with their voices. They found what they were looking for in Chicago's many storefront churches. These small congregations provided a place for them to develop a sense of community through their shared spiritual bonds. Those who worked as janitors or on low-level assembly lines gained self-esteem and social status by providing service and stewardship to the church. These parishioners provided the membership that resulted in the opening of some three hundred storefront churches in the Chicago area during the 1930s.
DID YOU KNOW The "Red Summer" of 1919 was a time of violent and bloody race riots in towns and cities across the nation.
The "Red Summer" of 1919
Civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson used the term "Red Summer" to describe the summer of 1919. Violent and bloody race riots engulfed towns and cities across the nation. The worst riot was in Chicago, where blacks and whites battled on the streets for five days in July.
The 1919 race riots were precipitated by the growing tensions between blacks and whites over the stability of white neighborhoods and white men's jobs. Riots took place in rural sections of Arkansas; small towns in Texas; Charleston, SC; Knoxville, TN; Tulsa, OK; Washington, DC; and Omaha, NE. The bloody riot in Chicago began when a black teenager floated onto a white beach and was attacked. Gangs of whites spread their attacks to blacks passing through white neighborhoods, and the local Chicago police did nothing to stop the brutality. In response, blacks attacked whites passing through or near black ghettoes. A cooling rainstorm and the Illinois National Guard restored order after five hot days of intense fighting.
DID YOU KNOW Painter Jacob Lawrence became famous through his Migration of the Negro series.
"My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life - if he has developed this philosophy, he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas." Jacob Lawrence, 1946
Jacob Lawrence was a firm believer in the ability of art to affect change. He approached the creative process like his life, with great honesty and emotional integrity. Lawrence is best known for the Migration of the Negro, an epic narrative series of sixty paintings that he completed in 1941 at the age of twenty-four. The series, which was painted in bright tempera paints on small hardboard panels - all of which are accompanied by captions - depicts the flight of millions of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North during and after the first World War. The series is a unique blend of styles, part mural painting, part social realism, and part modernist abstraction. Shortly after, Lawrence became the first African-American painter to be represented by a major commercial gallery and the first to receive recognition from the mainstream American art world. For more on Jacob Lawrence, visit:
A Glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven: The Azusa Street Revival
Azusa Mission stands for the unity of God's people everywhere. God is uniting His people, baptizing them by one Spirit in one body. Apostolic Faith, the newspaper of the Azusa Mission
By 1900, southern churches were completely separated by race; Christianity had divided along the color line. But in Los Angeles, white bishops and black workers, men and women, Asians and Mexicans, white professors and black laundry women gathered at a former AME church building on Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles. This interracial congregation worshipped under the leadership of a black pastor, William J. Seymour.
For over three years, what historians call the Azusa Street Revival conducted three services a day, seven days a week. Word of the revival was spread abroad through The Apostolic Faith, a paper that Seymour sent for free to some 50,000 subscribers. So many missionaries spread the word from Azusa that within two years the movement had spread to over fifty nations.
Apart from its interracial congregation, Azusa's most striking characteristic was the practice of speaking in tongues, which was seen as a sign that an individual was baptized by the Holy Spirit. Previously, few Pentecostals had spoken in tongues, and the languages they used were foreign but known. Seymour and his followers spoke in unknown tongues, understood only by God, a practice widely adopted by Christians who believed it was a sign that God was breaking down barriers to spread the Gospel around the world.
When Charles Fox Parham, a white Pentecostal pioneer and teacher of Seymour's (he had allowed Seymour to attend his Bible School on the condition that he sit outside a door left partially ajar), visited Azusa Street in October of 1906, he denounced the Revival as a "darky camp meeting." "What good can come from a self-appointed Negro prophet?" scoffed the mainstream newspapers.
Azusa Street dissolved amidst the racial politics of unrequited love. In May 1908, Seymour married Jennie Evans Moore. Clara Lum, Mission Secretary and administrative helper for the newspaper, disapproved of their marriage so much that she left for Portland, taking with her the paper's mailing lists containing the names of 50,000 subscribers. Without them, Seymour couldn't continue publishing.
Meanwhile, splits within Azusa Street developed along theological and racial lines. All of the white Pentacostal leaders separated themselves from Seymour and Azusa. Ms. Lum took his newspaper; his former teacher, Charles Parham, discredited his fellowship; and finally William Durham, a white parishoner, led a faction out of the church. That faction eventually became the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. The remaining black worshippers eventually became the Church of God in Christ, the largest black denomination in America.
Seymour came to believe that blacks and whites worshipping together was a surer sign of God's blessing and the Spirit's healing presence than speaking in tongues. The fact that the church had nationally split along racial lines meant that the charismatic ideal of cooperation with the Spirit had been foiled by the forces of racism.
Once the whites defected, the Azusa Street Mission became almost entirely black. Still, its message echoes through history. It made a distinctive contribution to the historical evolution of religion in America by involving blacks, women, and the poor at all levels of ministry, and it was the birthplace of two major Pentecostal denominations.
DID YOU KNOW The largest Pentecostal denomination in North America is the Church of God in Christ.
The Church of God in Christ
Charles Harrison Mason was concerned that spiritual progress came only with distance from African rituals that had marked worship during slavery. In 1897, he held a Holiness revival near Lexington, Mississippi. It was the first meeting of what would become the Church of God in Christ. Nine years later, Mason journeyed to Azusa Street and received the "baptism in tongues."
Today, the Church of God in Christ is the largest Pentecostal denomination in North America, claiming some 5,500,000 members in 15,300 local churches. It is the only black denomination that does not trace its roots from a white church.
DID YOU KNOW Charles Price Jones, co-founder of the Church of God in Christ, was also a composer.
Charles Price Jones co-founded the Church of God in Christ with Mason. They were both students at Arkansas Baptist College. Mason, however, dropped out because he felt there could be no salvation through education. Jones stayed, and graduated in 1891. However, he maintained a Methodist connection.
Jones wrote over one thousand hymns, most of them between 1895 and 1905.
You can listen to some of these at
DID YOU KNOW Charles Price Jones, co-founder of the Church of God in Christ, was also a composer.
Most of the world's Pentecostal denominations are derived from the churches started by William J. Seymour, Charles Price Jones, and Charles Harrison Mason.
The Roots of Pentecostalism
The world's largest denomination, the Assemblies of God, and most of the world's 11,000 Pentecostalist traditions, trace their roots to William J. Seymour's Azusa Street Revival and to Charles Mason's Church of God in Christ.
Father Divine's Peace Mission: Hope for the Impoverished
Because your god would not feed the people, I came and I am feeding them. Because your god kept such as you segregated and discriminated, I came and I am unifying all nations together. That is why I came, because I did not believe in your god. Father Divine
Father Divine's Peace Mission remains one of the most unorthodox religious movements in America. He may or may not have been born George Baker, either in Maryland or further south. Although a Baptist, he received God's word at the Azusa Street Revival. Early on, he preached a message of equality among men and the hope of heaven-on-earth to black men. His actions got him arrested, imprisoned, and, on one occasion, institutionalized in a mental asylum. However, his charismatic message of an interracial paradise on earth caught on in the North, where he was able to preach in greater anonymity. Ultimately, Father Divine's Peace Mission would become well known for its aggressive efforts to desegregate all aspects of American society.
Father Divine created a philosophy that merged elements of Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Methodism, and positive thinking. Father Divine's followers believed that he embodied the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Mainstream Americans scoffed at this small African-American deity, but many in black America thought he was crazy like a fox. Father Divine used white disciples to buy property. He bought a hotel near Atlantic City, New Jersey, so that blacks could access the beach. He married white women and lived openly with them. To most of black America, he was doing things no other black man could have gotten away with.
In 1931, the local authorities arrested Father Divine and dozens of his disciples in Sayville, Long Island, for "invading the county with his religious practices," which included black men and white women living in the same house together. Divine was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail by a biased judge, Lewis J. Smith. Three days after imposing the sentence, however, Judge Smith, 55, dropped dead. When a reporter asked the jailed preacher for a comment, Divine replied, "I hated to do it."
The trial and its consequences brought a great deal of popularity to Father Divine. Over 150 Peace Missions sprang up around the country, with one quarter of them located in New York. The largest Mission formed in Harlem, then trapped in the deepening Great Depression. At one point, the Peace Mission was the largest property owner in Harlem. And during the Depression, Father Divine fed tens of thousands food and his vision of racial equality. They venerated him as a deliverer from Heaven.
From the beginning, Father Divine had ministered to the whole person, body as well as soul, and that approach found an eager reception among the impoverished. The movement rapidly built up a network of businesses, including restaurants, gas stations, grocery and clothing stores, hotels, farms, and many other enterprises. All provided high-quality goods and services inexpensively, and not incidentally created jobs for Father Divine's faithful. By the end of the Depresson decade, the Peace Mission had accumulated savings in excess of $15 million.
But his success created problems. Father Divine lived large, dressed ostentatiously, and challenged the status quo. As his empire grew, so did the investigations by journalists and government officials. Newspapers reported allegations of mishandling of funds, sexual abuse, and homosexuality.
Yet, through his teachings and his actions, Father Divine could be counted among the stalwarts who defended African-Americans' right to have heaven here on earth, not pie in the sky.
DID YOU KNOW In the early 1900s, the Moorish Science Temple of America attempted to resuscitate Islam in black America.
The Moorish Science Temple of America
Islam retained a small but insistent claim on the sympathies of African-Americans. It originally crossed the Atlantic during the years of the slave trade. Generations later, Islam was virtually lost, smothered by Christianity. The Moorish Science Temple of America, founded by Timothy Drew in Chicago in 1913, attempted to resuscitate Islam. Drew was believed by his followers to have been ordained Prophet Noble Drew Ali by Allah. Ali created, out of his study of Oriental philosophy, his version of the Holy Koran, the sacred text. He advocated a "return" to Islam as the only means for blacks to escape racial oppression. The sect maintained rigorous spiritual and dietary practices, many derived from Muslim observances. Noble Drew Ali died mysteriously during a period of internal strife, and the cult lost its momentum shortly thereafter.
DID YOU KNOW Bishop Ida Bell Robinson started her own church, eventually growing to 84 churches all along the eastern seaboard.
Ida Bell Robinson
Ida Bell Robinson built the Mount Sinai Church of America, 84 churches from New England to Florida. She ordained 163 ministers, 125 of them women.She was born on August 3, 1891 in Hazelhurst, GA, the seventh of 12 children. In 1909, Ida Bell married Oliver Robinson. In 1917 they joined the "Great Migration," moving to Philadelphia. Robinson ministered to people in their homes there, and eventually was appointed pastor in the newly-formed United Holy Church of America. But women pastors were not well accepted, and so Pastor Robinson determined to start her own church. That year she opened the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America. Her priority was to train and provide opportunities for women to preach. Robinson invested her own money to help other women and men start new churches and worked tirelessly to spread her message.
Make a Joyful Noise: The Spread of Gospel Music
The blues are the songs of despair, but gospel songs are the songs of hope. Mahalia Jackson
In the 1920s, individual black artists began to blend the various strands of African-American music into a new religious art. They fought against traditionalist churches as they did so, but ultimately, the sheer power of the uniquely urban, yet fundamentally rural, music took root among black congregations. It was called Gospel music, and it quickly swept black Baptist and Methodist churches. The sheer number of migrants in the North determined that outcome, as did the talent and faith of musicians like Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, and the Ebenezer Gospel Choir.
The word "gospel" derives from the Greek for "good news," meaning the good news of the New Testament. Gospel songs proclaim hope in the face of disaster, and in that way are like the spirituals from slavery times. Unlike spirituals, they have few references to Old Testament stories and characters. And while the spirituals are meant to be sung in a chorus, gospel tunes generally have an important role for the soloist.
Gospel particularly drew from the rhythms of blues and jazz music. In this way, it healed the long-standing tension between sacred and secular music in African-American culture. Many blues singers were known to perform on Saturday nights and then get up on Sundays to preach and evangelize. In Gospel, the music of Saturday night was adapted for worship on Sunday mornings. In 1932, Ebenezer's Gospel Choir made its singing debut. The choir consisted of 100 members, mostly recent migrants. It was also in 1932 that Dorsey, a migrant and blues musician, wrote his most famous song, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," and co-founded the first publishing house for the promotion of black American gospel. In 1942, the Golden Gates recorded "No Segregation in Heaven," a highlight in the era of a cappella music that dominated gospel
Gospel music and the hope, joy, and faith that it embodies, would become essential to helping African-Americans through a new struggle: World War II.
DID YOU KNOW Mahalia Jackson made gospel popular.
Mahalia Jackson, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, was born in 1911 in New Orleans, LA. Like Thomas Dorsey and thousands of other African-Americans, she and her family were part of the Great Migration, moving north to Chicago in 1927. She was heavily influenced by the more expressive singing styles of the sanctified church and by blues singers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. In 1935, Jackson became Thomas Dorsey' song demonstrator. She toured and recorded with the "Father of Gospel," promoting gospel music. Her enormous talents earned her worldwide success. During the Civil Rights Movement, Jackson lent her support at countless fund-raising rallies. When Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Jackson sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at his funeral. She died of heart failure on January 27, 1972.
DID YOU KNOW All black church music is not gospel.
The Many Forms of Black Church Music
God is praised in black churches in many ways; not all music sung there is gospel music. There are gospel songs, traditional hymns, spirituals, and "lined hymns," also called "Dr. Watts." The latter are hymns raised from the floor by a leader who sings or hums out the hymn's lines with the congregation responding in a choral surge. These tunes are usually sung in minor keys. In the Southeast they can still be heard today, particularly in Baptist churches. In addition, a growing number of black composers write in the Euro-American style. "Lift Every Voice and sing," known as the Black National Anthem, is as popular as Handel's "Messiah."
DID YOU KNOW Contemporary gospel music is more widespread than traditional gospel ever was.
The Rise of Contemporary Gospel
Traditional gospel music was confined to storefront churches. During the late sixties, young college students deserted churches that weren't "relevant"; i.e. where there wasn't enough of an R&B flavor in the music and liturgy. The churches that retained membership were those that encouraged contemporary gospel during worship. Those churches in turn have created a new record industry that determines which songs are sung during the service; the result is that many traditional gospel songs are now rarely heard. Some criticize contemporary gospel because it glorifies the singers instead of the Holy Ghost.