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Black church

The term black church or African-American church refers to Christian churches that currently or historically have ministered to predominantly black congregations in the United States. While some black churches belong to predominantly African-American denominations, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), many black churches are members of predominantly white denominations, such as the United Church of Christ (which developed from the Congregational Church of New England).[1]

Most of the first black congregations and churches formed before 1800 were founded by free blacks - for example, in

  • Jeremy D. Lucas, "The Segregated Hour: A Layman's Guide to the History of Black Liberation Theology", The Segregated Hour Website.

External links

Further reading

  1. ^ Sutton, Charyn D. (1992). Pass It On: Outreach to Minority Communities, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. 
  2. ^ a b "Gillfield Baptist Church, Petersburg, Virginia", Virginia Commonwealth University Library, 2008, accessed 22 Dec 2008
  3. ^ a b A Brief History of the First Baptist Church (Black) Lexington, KentuckyH. E. Nutter, , 1940, accessed 22 Aug 2010
  4. ^ a b c Maffly-Kipp, Laurie F. (May 2001). "The Church in the Southern Black Community". Retrieved 2007-05-21. 
  5. ^ a b (containing the memoir of Rev. David Rice)An Outline of the history of the church in the state of Kentucky, during a period of forty yearsRobert Hamilton Bishop's , T. T. Skillman, 1824, pp. 230-33.
  6. ^ Rosemary Skinner Keller (2006), "Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Women and religion: methods of study and reflection", Indiana University Press, page 997
  7. ^ a b Anne H. Pinn, Fortress Introduction to Black Church History, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress, 2002, p. 2.
  8. ^ a b c  
  9. ^ a b "Africans in America: The Black Church". Retrieved 2007-05-21. 
  10. ^ Rimsa, Kelly. "The Underground Railroad in Indiana". Archived from the original on 2007-04-13. Retrieved 2007-05-21. 
  11. ^ "Civil War history lesson: Petersburg, Virginia, embraces and expands its past",, 9 March 2005, accessed 22 Dec 2008
  12. ^ "First Baptist Church, Petersburg", African American Heritage, accessed 22 Dec 2008
  13. ^ "George Liele", Africans in America, PBS, accessed 14 Jan 2009
  14. ^ Raboteau, Albert J. (2004). Slave Religion: The 'Invisible Institution' in the Antebellum South. Oxford University Press. pp. 139, 141. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  15. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  16. ^ A History of Kentucky Baptists: From 1769-1885, Vol. IIJohn H. Spencer, , Cincinnati, OH: J.R. Baumes private printing, 1886, p. 657, accessed 23 Aug 2010
  17. ^ "Daniel Payne", This Far by Faith, PBS, 2003, 13 January 2009.
  18. ^ Songs of ZionJames T. Campbell, , New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 53-54, accessed 13 Jan 2009
  19. ^ a b "The Church in the Southern Black Community", Documenting the South, University of North Carolina, 2004, accessed 15 Jan 2009
  20. ^ "Roots of Christian Methodist Episcopal Church", Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Official website, accessed 15 Jan 2009
  21. ^ Anne H. Pinn, Fortress Introduction to Black Church History, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress, 2002, p. 56
  22. ^ Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Church in the United States and South AfricaJames T. Campbell, , New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 54.
  23. ^ Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619-1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1994, p. 222.
  24. ^ Songs of ZionJames T. Campbell, , New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, accessed 13 Jan 2009
  25. ^ "We Shall Overcome: The Players". Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  26. ^ , Part 3: 1791-1831Brotherly Love"The Black Church",
  27. ^ "The Diminishing Divide ... American Churches, American Politics". June 25, 1996. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  28. ^ Fears, Darryl (2004-11-02). "Gay Blacks Feeling Strained Church Ties". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  29. ^ Jeffrey S. Siker, Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia, 2007, p. 49.
  30. ^ Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  31. ^ Barbara Bradley Hagerty, "A Closer Look at Black Liberation Theology", National Public Radio.
  32. ^ Obama and His 'White Grandmother' from The Wall Street Journal
  33. ^ Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude, eds, African American Religious Thought: An Anthology, 2003 ISBN 0-664-22459-8, p. 850.
  34. ^ Powell, Michael. "A Fiery Theology Under Fire", The New York Times, May 4, 2008.
  35. ^ TUCC Talking points; see also [ Margaret Talev, "Obama's church pushes controversial doctrines"], McClatchy Newspapers, March 20, 2008.
  36. ^ Root shock: The consequences of African American dispossession, Journal of Urban Health. New York: Springer. Volume 78, Number 1 / March 2001.
  37. ^ Douglas A. Smith, "The Neighborhood Context of Police Behavior", Crime and Justice, Vol. 8, Communities and Crime (1986), pp. 313-41.
  38. ^ Mary Pattillo-McCoy, "Church Culture as a Strategy of Action in the Black Community", American Sociological Review, Vol. 63, No. 6 (December 1998), pp. 767-84.
  39. ^ Bruce Makoto Arnold. "Shepherding a Flock of a Different Fleece: A Historical and Social Analysis of the Unique Attributes of the African American Pastoral Caregiver". 
  40. ^ Wendy L. Haight, "'Gathering the Spirit' at First Baptist Church: Spirituality as a Protective Factor in the Lives of African American Children", Social Work, Vol. 43, 1998.
  41. ^ "Abyssinian Development Corporation". Abyssinian Development Corporation. 
  42. ^ Azi Paybarah, "A Harlem Church Sues to Operate Charter School", October 25, 2007.
  43. ^ Black Nativity
  44. ^ Black Nativity
  45. ^ a b Moore, John Jamison, D.D (1884). History of the A.M.E. Zion Church in America. Founded 1796, In the City of New York. York, Pa: Teachers' Journal Office. 
  46. ^ "History of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.". Archived from the original on 2007-01-06. Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  47. ^ "The Story of Our Church". Archived from the original on 2007-05-13. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  48. ^ "Chronology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr". Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  49. ^ "Largest Religious Groups in the USA". 


See also

Worshippers at Holy Angel Catholic Church on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, by John H. White, 1973.

Other denominations

[49] The Church of God in Christ is the nation's largest predominantly African American denomination.[48]", delivered the day before he was assassinated.I've Been to the Mountaintop's final sermon, "Martin Luther King. It is the site of Memphis, Tennessee in Mason Temple The headquarters of COGIC is [47] At a conference in

Jones changed the name of his COGIC church to the Church of Christ (Holiness) USA in 1915.

In 1907, Charles Harrison Mason formed the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) after his Baptist church expelled him. Mason was a member of the Holiness movement of the late 19th century. In 1906, he attended the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Upon his return to Tennessee, he began teaching the Pentecostal Holiness message. However, Charles Price Jones and J. A. Jeter of the Holiness movement disagreed with Mason's teachings on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Church of God in Christ

[46] The National Baptist Convention was first organized in 1880 as the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention in

Christian bodies of the US

National Baptist Convention

In 1820, AME Zion Church members began further separation from the ME Church. By seeking to install black preachers and elders, they created a debate over whether blacks could be ministers. This debate ended in 1822 with the ordination of Abraham Thompson, Leven Smith, and James Varick, the first superintendent (bishop) of the AME Zion church. After the Civil War, the denomination sent missionaries to the South and attracted thousands of new members, who shaped the church.[45]

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion or AME Zion Church, like the AME Church, is an offshoot of the ME Church. Black members of the John Street Methodist Church of New York City left to form their own church after several acts of overt discrimination by white members. In 1796, black Methodists asked the permission of the bishop of the ME Church to meet independently, though still to be part of the ME Church and led by white preachers. This AME Church group built Zion chapel in 1800 and became incorporated in 1801, still subordinate to the ME Church.[45]

African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Over time, Allen and others sought more independence from white supervision within the Methodist Church. In 1816 Allen gathered four other black congregations together in the mid-Atlantic region to establish the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church as an independent denomination, the first fully independent black denomination. The ministers consecrated Allen as their first bishop.[9]

Allen continued for some years within the Methodist denomination but organized a black congregation. By 1794 he and his followers opened the doors of the all-black Mother Bethel AME Church.

The first of these churches was the Free African Society, which acted as a mutual aid society. Religious differences caused Jones to take numerous followers to create an Episcopal congregation. They established the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, which opened its doors in 1794. Absalom Jones was later ordained by the bishop of the Philadelphia diocese as the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church.

African Methodist Episcopal Church

Throughout U.S. history, religious preferences and racial segregation have fostered development of separate black church denominations, as well as black churches within white denominations.

Historically black denominations

Like many Christians, African-American Christians sometimes participate in or attend a Christmas play. Black Nativity by Langston Hughes is a re-telling of the classic Nativity story with gospel music. Productions can be found at black theaters and churches all over the country.[43][44] The Three Wise Men are typically played by prominent members of the black community.


Although black urban neighborhoods in cities that have deindustrialized may have suffered from civic disinvestment,[36] with lower quality schools, less effective policing[37] and fire protection, there are institutions that help to improve the physical and social capital of black neighborhoods. In black neighborhoods the churches may be important sources of social cohesion.[38] For some African Americans the kind of spirituality learned through these churches works as a protective factor against the corrosive forces of poverty and racism.[39][40] Churches may also do work to improve the physical infrastructure of the neighborhood. Churches in Harlem have undertaken real estate ventures and renovated burnt-out and abandoned brownstones to create new housing for residents.[41] Churches have fought for the right to operate their own schools in place of the often inadequate public schools found in many black neighborhoods.[42]

As neighborhood institutions

In 2008, approximately one quarter of African-American churches followed a liberation theology.[34] The theology was thrust into the national spotlight after a controversy arose related to preaching by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to then-Senator Barack Obama at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago. Wright had built Trinity into a successful megachurch following the theology developed by Cone, who has said that he would "point to [Trinity] first" as an example of a church's embodying his message.[35]

Black liberation theology was first systematized by James Cone and Dwight Hopkins. They are considered the leading theologians of this system of belief, although now there are many scholars who have contributed a great deal to the field. In 1969, Cone published the seminal work that laid the basis for black liberation theology, Black Theology and Black Power. In the book, Cone asserted that not only was black power not alien to the Gospel, it was, in fact, the Gospel message for all of 20th century America.[32][33]

One formalization of theology based on themes of black liberation is the Black liberation theology movement. Its origins can be traced to July 31, 1966, when an ad hoc group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen (NCNC), bought a full-page ad in The New York Times to publish their "Black Power Statement", which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible for inspiration.[31]

Black liberation theology

Most surveys indicate that while blacks tend to vote Democratic in elections, members of traditionally African-American churches are generally more socially conservative than white Protestants as a whole.[28] Same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues have been among the leading causes for activism in some black churches,[29] though a majority of black Protestants remain opposed to this stance.[30]

The black church continues to be a source of support for members of the African-American community. When compared to American churches as a whole, black churches tend to focus more on social issues such as poverty, gang violence, drug use, prison ministries and racism. A study found that black Christians were more likely to have heard about health care reform from their pastors than were white Christians.[27]

Politics and social issues

Black churches held a leadership role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Their history as a centers of strength for the black community made them natural leaders in this moral struggle. In addition they had often served as links between the black and white worlds. Notable minister-activists of the 1950s and 1960s included Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Bernard Lee, Fred Shuttlesworth, Wyatt Tee Walker and C. T. Vivian.[25][26]

Civil Rights Movement

Since the male hierarchy denied them opportunities for missionary societies to address social issues. These societies provided job training and reading education, worked for better living conditions, raised money for African missions, wrote religious periodicals, and promoted Victorian ideals of womanhood, respectability, and racial uplift.[4]

Black preachers provided leadership, encouraged education and economic growth, and were often the primary link between the black and white communities. The black church established and/or maintained the first black schools and encouraged community members to fund these schools and other public services.[8] For most black leaders, the churches always were connected to political goals of advancing the race. There grew to be a tension between black leaders from the North and people in the South who wanted to run their churches and worship in their own way.[24]

The postwar years were marked by a separatist impulse as blacks exercised the right to move and gather beyond white supervision or control. They developed black churches, benevolent societies, fraternal orders and fire companies.[22] In some areas they moved from farms into towns, as in middle Tennessee, or to cities that needed rebuilding, such as Atlanta. Black churches were the focal points of black communities, and their members' quickly seceding from white churches demonstrated their desire to manage their own affairs independently of white supervision. It also showed the prior strength of the "invisible church" hidden from white eyes.[23]

[8] These churches blended elements from underground churches with elements from freely established black churches.[4] At the same time, black Baptist churches, well-established before the Civil War, continued to grow and add new congregations. With the rapid growth of black Baptist churches in

In 1870 in Jackson, Tennessee, with support from white colleagues of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, more than 40 black Southern ministers, all freedmen and former slaves, met to establish the Southern-based Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church (now Christian Methodist Episcopal Church), founded as an independent branch of Methodism. They took their mostly black congregations with them. They adopted the Methodist Doctrine and elected their first two bishops, William H. Miles of Kentucky and Richard H. Vanderhorst of South Carolina.[19][20] Within three years, from a base of about 40,000, they had grown to 67,000 members, and more than te times that many in 50 years.[21]

[19] church, founded in New York, also gained tens of thousands of Southern members. These two independent black denominations attracted the most new members in the South.AME Zion Similarly, within the first decade, the independent [18] By the end of Reconstruction, AME congregations existed from Florida to Texas. Their missioners and preachers had brought more than 250,000 new adherents into the church. While it had a northern base, the church was heavily influenced by this growth in the South and incorporation of many members who had different practices and traditions.[17] After


Before 1850, First African Baptist in Lexington, Kentucky grew to 1,820 members, making it the largest congregation in that state. This was under its second pastor, Rev. London Ferrill, a free black,[3] and occurred as Lexington was expanding rapidly as a city. First African Baptist was admitted to the Elkhorn Baptist Association in 1824, where it came somewhat under oversight of white congregations. In 1841, Saint Augustine Catholic Church was established by the Creole community of New Orleans.This church is the oldest Black catholic parish in the United States. In 1856 First African Baptist built a large Italianate church, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.[15] By 1861 the congregation numbered 2,223 members.[16]

In First African Baptist Church. By 1800 the church had 700 members, and by 1830 it had grown to more than 2400 members. Soon it generated two new black congregations in the city.[14]

Great Awakening: First Baptist Church (1774) and Gillfield Baptist Church (1797). Each congregation moved from rural areas into Petersburg into their own buildings in the early 19th century. Their two black Baptist congregations were the first of that denomination in the city and they grew rapidly.[2][11][12]

Richard Allen, a Methodist preacher, wanted to continue with the Methodist tradition. He built a congregation and founded the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first fully independent black denomination. He was elected its first bishop in 1816. While he and Jones led different denominations, they continued to work closely together and with the black community in Philadelphia. Soon thereafter, Allen. Jones, and others began soliciting funds, again with the help of Rush. Their appeals met with resistance from white church leaders, many of whom had been supportive of the black community, but disapproved of a separate back church.

In 1787 in Philadelphia, the Black church was born out of protest and revolutionary reaction to racism. Resenting being relegated to a segregated gallery at African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. In 1804 Jones was the first black priest ordained in the Episcopal Church. (Butler 2000, DuBois 1866).

Free blacks in both northern and southern cities formed their own congregations and churches before the end of the 18th century. They organized independent black congregations and churches[8] to practice religion apart from white oversight.[9] Along with white churches opposed to slavery, free blacks in Philadelphia provided aid and comfort to slaves who escaped and helped all new arrivals adjust to city life.[10]

Free blacks

"Wade in the water." Postcard of a river baptism in New Bern, North Carolina, around 1900.

Slaves also learned about Christianity by attending services led by a white preacher or supervised by a white person. Slaveholders often held prayer meetings at their plantations. In the South until the Great Awakening, most slaveholders were Anglican if they practiced any Christianity. Although in the early years of the first Great Awakening, Methodist and Baptist preachers argued for manumission of slaves and abolition, by the early decades of the 19th century, they often had found ways to support the institution. In settings where whites supervised worship and prayer, they used Bible stories that reinforced people's keeping to their places in society, urging slaves to be loyal and to obey their masters. In the 19th century, Methodist and Baptist chapels were founded among many of the smaller communities and common planters.[7] During the early decades of the 19th century, they used stories such as the Curse of Ham to justify slavery to themselves.[7] They promoted the idea that loyal and hard-working slaves would be rewarded in the afterlife. Sometimes slaves established their own Sabbath schools to talk about the Scriptures. Slaves who were literate tried to teach others to read, as Frederick Douglass did while still enslaved as a young man in Maryland.

In plantation areas, slaves organized underground churches and hidden religious meetings, the "invisible church", where slaves were free to mix evangelical Christianity with African beliefs and African rhythms. With the time, many incorporated Wesleyan Methodist hymns, gospel songs, and spirituals.[6] The underground churches provided psychological refuge from the white world. The spirituals gave the church members a secret way to communicate and, in some cases, to plan rebellion.

Following slave revolts in the early 19th century, including Nat Turner's Rebellion in 1831, Virginia passed a law requiring black congregations to meet only in the presence of a white minister. Other states similarly restricted exclusively black churches, or the assembly of blacks in large groups unsupervised by whites. Nevertheless, the black Baptist congregations in the cities grew rapidly and their members numbered several hundred each before the Civil War. (See next section.) While mostly led by free blacks, most of their members were slaves.

Both free blacks and the more numerous slaves participated in the earliest black Baptist congregations founded near Lexington, Kentucky, before 1800. The slaves Peter Durrett and his wife founded the First African Church (now known as First African Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky c. 1790.[5] The church's trustees purchased its first property in 1815. The congregation numbered about 290 by the time of Durrett's death in 1823.[5]

Evangelical Baptist and Methodist preachers traveled throughout the South in the Great Awakening of the late 18th century. They appealed directly to slaves, and a few thousand slaves converted. Blacks found opportunities to have active roles in new congregations, especially in the Baptist Church, where slaves were appointed as leaders and preachers. (They were excluded from such roles in the Anglican or Episcopal Church.) As they listened to readings, slaves developed their own interpretations of the Scriptures and found inspiration in stories of deliverance, such as the Exodus out of Egypt. Nat Turner, a slave and Baptist preacher, was inspired to armed rebellion, in an uprising that killed about 50 white men, women, and children in Virginia.[4]

African American Baptist Church, Silver Hill Plantation, Georgetown County, South Carolina



  • Slavery 1
  • Free blacks 2
    • Reconstruction 2.1
    • Civil Rights Movement 2.2
  • Politics and social issues 3
  • Black liberation theology 4
  • As neighborhood institutions 5
  • Traditions 6
  • Historically black denominations 7
    • African Methodist Episcopal Church 7.1
    • African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 7.2
    • National Baptist Convention 7.3
    • Church of God in Christ 7.4
    • Other denominations 7.5
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

The tradition of African Americans worshiping together continued to develop during the late 19th century and continues to this day despite the decline of segregationist attitudes and the general acceptability of integrated worship. African-American churches have long been the centers of communities, serving as school sites in the early years after the civil rights movement.

After slavery was abolished, segregationist attitudes in both the North and the South discouraged and, especially in the South, prevented African Americans from worshiping in the same churches as whites. Freed blacks most often established congregations and church facilities separate from their white neighbors, who were often their former masters. These new churches created communities and worship practices that were culturally distinct from other churches, including unique and empowering form of Christianity that creolized African spiritual traditions.

[3].Peter Durrett slave church in Kentucky, and third oldest in the United States, was founded about 1790 by the Baptist The oldest black [2]

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