Redemptive Role of the Black Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

44). She affiliated with the African Methodist Church (AME), preaching from New York State to Ohio and down South as well. She published her autobiography in 1849 and received "strong resistance and biting criticism," according to Frances Smith Foster (1993). "Lee used her alleged inferiority to emphasize the power of her message and in so doing, she…implies an authority superior to those whom she addresses" (Foster, p. 57). Indeed, Lee used the New Testament assertion that "the last shall be first" and in her autobiography she said she was an example of God's "ability to use even 'a poor coloured female instrument' to convert sinners…" (Foster, p. 57).

Another worthy source utilized for this paper is Dr. Edward R. Crowther, Professor of History at Adams State College in Colorado. Crowther published an article in the Journal of Negro History explaining how African-Americans got away from the white man's church after Emancipation. The former slaves took "decisive action" Crowther writes, to break the "ecclesiastical bonds that shackled them to the white man's church" (Crowther, 1995, p. 131). Blacks withdrew from the segregated Sabbath worship services in Alabama, and the story of the dynamics between whites and blacks in postbellum Alabama is a story of radical change and reluctant adjustment, Crowther explains.

By 1866 the white Baptists in Alabama were facing a "new and different world" because slaves were now free people, the Confederate armies had been beaten, and African-Americans "remained a vital part of the society." It was a struggle, Crowther explains, to balance the "dictates of scripture with the demands of society" as whites and blacks sought cooperation rather than antagonism. Many white Baptists however were reluctant to do anything to help the recently freed slaves, and when the black Baptists sought to form their own congregations and "sought to procure their own church buildings," and that upset some whites. Those whites had justified slavery as a "divinely ordered agency to civilize black" (Crowther, p. 131).

But there were Christian whites in Alabama -- for example, members of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery -- who actually helped their "black brethren build their own church building" (Crowther, p. 131). Meantime, black Baptists (during Reconstruction) built churches, established new congregations, developed Sunday Schools and "promoted denominational harmony" (Crowther, p. 132). Eventually, Charles Octavius Boothe, among the best-known black Baptist leaders in Alabama, was paid by the American Baptist Home Missionary Society (a mostly white organization) to become a missionary in the state and recruit African-Americans to the Baptist cause. In the first ten and a half months of his missionary work, Boothe preached 84 sermons, gave 96 lectures, spoke to 50 churches, 30 Sunday Schools, 7 secular schools and visited 150 families. However, "bad luck and racism terminated this promising attempt at cooperation" and Boothe resigned after one full year of black-white Baptist evangelism (Crowther, p. 133).

One of the churches that did succeed and is going strong today in Alabama is the African-American Church in Birmingham. Author Wilson Fallin Jr. explains that when freed slaves moved into Birmingham they "formed churches that served as a shelter in the midst of [a] racist storm" (Fallin, 1997, p. xii). Because they were denied access to secular institutions, blacks in Birmingham in the late 1800s organized around their church. "The church was the meeting place and social center," Fallin writes; through their church the African-Americans built schools, banks, insurance companies and even welfare agencies. Moreover, having left the white churches to build their own futures, they could "listen and react to their own preachers in their own way: singing, dancing, and shouting" (Fallin, p. 13).

Years later, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King brought his Civil Rights campaign to Birmingham -- using his national reputation as a leader to help desegregate busses, cafeterias, and other Jim Crow institutions. "The African-American church in its broadest perspective must be seen as the central institution in the African-American community" (Fallin, p. 164).

In conclusion, one of the most successful and respected African-American churches is the First Baptist Missionary Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was started when seventeen "Negroes were accepted into a previously all-white membership in 1943…" and by 1845 the black members were granted their own separate services. Today the church has "grown numerically and spiritually" and is a success story that was born out of the period of slavery.

Works Cited

Blount, Brian K. (2005). Can I Get a Witness? Reading Revelation Through African-American

Culture. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Clayton, Obie. (1995). The Churches and Social Change: Accommodation, Moderation, or Protest. Daedalus, 124(1), 101-119).

Collier-Thomas, Bettye. (1998). Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their

Sermons, 1850-1979. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Crowther, Edward R. (1995). Interracial Cooperative Missions Among Blacks by Alabama's

Baptists, 1868-1882. The Journal of Negro History, 80(3), 131-140.

Fallin, Wilson. (1997). The African-American Church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1815-1963.

New York: Garland Publishing.

First Baptist Missionary Church. (2010). Background History. Retrieved Feb. 18, 2010, from

Foster, Frances Smith. (1993). Written by Herself:…

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