African-American Culture: Church History And Impact

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African Americans had firm religious beliefs that dated back to their native African cultures before becoming slaves in America. They maintained these beliefs and practices after moving to America, though they faced numerous challenges at first. Firstly, the slave owners bought slaves based on their health and physiques without considering the specific part of Africa that they came from. This condition meant that many slaves met from different dialects, thus making communication amongst themselves a problem. As a result, they had no ways of sharing their beliefs congregationally as was the custom of African religious groups. Secondly, they faced stiff opposition from their owners to be in any form of gathering, including religious congregation, and would often be reprimanded if they did. The masters feared that allowing them to gather would lead to incitements and rebellion against their rule. However, African Americans still maintained their beliefs and found ways of practicing their faiths in one way or another despite the harsh challenges that they faced (Nguyen et al., 2017, p. 200). This determination led to the rapid growth of African American churches, which, in turn, had massive impacts on their social, economic, and political development and growth. This paper, therefore, discusses how African American churches impacted African American life and politics from 1865 to date.

Reconstruction and Post Civil War Error

The reconstruction era was a period after the civil war where the leaders and American citizens were trying to rebuild their nations after five years of fighting (1861-1865). The reconstruction had three primary visions. The whites wanted segregation and preservation of their cultures through their white supremacist vision. The reconsiliationist vision wanted both the whites and the blacks to embrace each other and live peacefully to restore the country’s economy. Finally, the emancipationist vision advocated for full freedom of the African Americans through the declaration of citizenship and constitutional equality. Most African Americans adopted the emancipationist theory because it served their interests better than the other two. However, they still could not air their grievances freely and share their opinions because most of the laws still supported slavery. African American churches were, therefore, critical for them since it allowed them exposure to literature, was a source of sustainability, and center of leadership. As a result, the church had significant social and political impacts on the African Americans’ lives.

Exposure to Literature

As already mentioned, communication was a significant challenge for African Americans. They came from different ethnicities and could thereby not understand each other’s dialects. Secondly, they had come from traditional settings where they only learned through informal ways, which meant that they could neither read nor write. Their masters could not also afford them the opportunity of learning because they felt that the best way of preventing any rebellion was to keep the slaves in their illiterate states. Additionally, the Africans Americans had not started going to school because of the racial discrimination and ownership by their masters.

These conditions left the church as the only social place that the African Americans could attend, an opportunity that they utilized to the fullest. It was through the church meetings that they started learning literature. Although at the time they were only learning the spiritual and scriptural texts, they were significantly improving their understanding of English. This rapid improvement meant that they could now comfortably communicate because they shared a common language. The religious and scriptural texts that they read continued to improve their understanding of literature, thereby making them form a habit of always wanting to learn (Thompson, Futterman & McDonnell, 2019, p. 10). Although their levels of literacy were incomparable to that of their White counterparts who were also attending schools, it was enough to help them pursue their day-to-day objectives. It also set the foundation and thirst for education, which later led to protests for knowledge, freedom, and equality, among other factors.

Source of Sustainability

African Americans lived in harsh environments full of forced labor, harassment, poor living conditions, discrimination, and segregation, among other factors that their masters subjected them. The Whites had even formulated laws in the constitution that regarded African Americans as their subjects and inferior race. During the reconstruction and post civil war era, the whites, through their white supremacists visions, wanted to protect and preserves these laws that denied African Americans from having any rights and indented them to follow everything that their masters ordered. These situations were very traumatizing and the African Americans needed somewhere they could feel a sense of belonging, which the church provided. The Christian teachings that everybody was created in the image and likeness of God gave them some comfort not only because they found a sense of belonging but also because of the thought that a superhuman being was watching over them.

The religious teachings and scriptures also gave them the courage to brave the hardships that they were going through as they await their delivery. They compared themselves to the biblical Israelites who had to go through years of hardship and slavery in Egypt before God sent Moses to deliver them from captivity (Johnson et al., 2016, p. 146). Likewise, they believed that God would one day take them out of the captivity that they had lived in for several years. In the meantime, they maintained their obedience to their masters and commitment to their chores since those were some of the fundamental teachings that they received in church. Therefore, the church was the solace of the African Americans who felt grieved. They would go there, worship, and leave feeling some relief from their stresses.

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Center of Leadership

Leadership was a critical requirement for the Africans who were pursuing their emancipationist vision during the reconstruction and the post-civil war era because the efforts needed unity and obedience. The African American churches were the centers of leadership for all African Americans. They looked up to their religious leaders for guidance on all the aspects of life and in all situations that they faced. Other than the spiritual nourishment that the church leaders provided, they also came in to resolve disputes. Africans had lived in a culture where community elders took charge of the day-to-day activities and solved all the conflicts whenever they arose. However, the move into America disintegrated the African Americans from their communities, thereby making them search for other leaders in the new environments in which they lived. They could not get this type of leadership from their masters because they were already feeling aggrieved. Additionally, they wanted people who they could comfortably associate with and confide in to help with any issues that they faced in their lives.

The church stepped in and took this mantle, thereby providing an avenue for the African Americans to organize themselves socially and culturally. The church advocated for justice through the religious and scriptural teachings. It taught the congregants of the significance of integrity and the repercussions of wrongdoing. The church also arbitrated every dispute that arose between the Africans Americans. As a result, African Americans grew spiritually and morally. They looked up to the leaders as their role models and fulfilled their responsibilities to the church, masters, families, and community as a whole. These circumstances show how the church had significant roles in uniting the African Americans. This unity later helped them stand together in advocating and fighting for their rights and freedom.

Social Impacts of the African American Church

After the African Americans had learned enough literature and adopted new cultures like the ones mentioned above, they united and became one community integrating all the people of color irrespective of the part of Africa that they came from during the slave trade. This integration led to increased interaction and the need for a further social association to engage in activities that would improve their lives. However, meeting at their masters’ residences was an abomination and would often lead to harsh punishments because their masters prohibited such meetings for fear of incitements and rebellion. The available social centers were also prohibited zones for them because of racial discrimination and segregation. The only places they could converge albeit with minimal challenges were the churches.

All community meetings, therefore, happened in the churches. The churches also hosted all social and cultural events that the African Americans organized and celebrated. These situations increased the African Americans’ thirst for freedom, yet they still went back to slavery. The constant feelings of resentment led to the emergence of civic groups from the African Americans, which started mobilizing for the fight for freedom and human rights. The African Americans also used the churches as schools before they constructed structures that they could use as schools because they were not allowed to attend the same schools as the Whites. These situations led to the rapid increase in the African American churches. The congregations were no longer interacting only within their communities. They extended the integration to the whole of America. Religious leaders occasionally met to discuss the welfare of their congregants and enhance learning.

Role of African Americans in Politics

Although the African Americans did not participate in national elections at first, they had formed formidable forces that influenced the polls significantly. They were also participating in the election of their religious leaders and thereby knew the significance of elections. The constant feeling of underrepresentation and misrepresentation from the Whites increased their advocacy for voting rights. They claimed that the Whites believed that Blacks were an inferior race who only qualified to be their slaves and thereby could not fight for African American freedom through the elective posts (Fields, 2018, p. 4). These efforts finally bore fruits and led to the amendment of the constitution to allow African Americans not only to vote but also vie for elective positions.

The African American churches, thereby, became a significant platform for political campaigns. Every contestant went to church to speak to the congregants who by now consisted of a substantial percentage of the American electorates. Most contestants approached the religious leaders for their support because they knew the massive influence that those leaders had on the believers. The political leaders had to assure the African Americans that they would champion for their rights and accord them equal resources to make their lives comfortable.

The illustrations presented above show how the African American church played significant roles in the life and politics of the African Americans. The proliferation of religious unions within African Americans is one of the most significant factors that made them achieve the numerous benefits that they are enjoying in the contemporary world. Their spiritual growth made them endure the circumstances they faced in the past during the slavery periods. It also taught them how to focus on pursuing one course with the initial pursuit being of spiritual nourishment. These constant engagements brought unity among the African Americans, which helped them whenever they started fighting for their rights. Although they faced many challenges, the African American churches managed to restore African Americans’ beliefs and faith, thus giving them the much-needed strength to continue to fighting. The growth and development of African Americans have been gradual over time, and their unity has led to their recognition in American society. Although many of the pioneers and African American presidential contestants failed to achieve their ambitions, the commitment, togetherness, and undying belief that the African Americans received from their religious teachings never ended. They eventually bore fruits when Barrack Obama became the first African American to be nominated by a major party (Democrats) in 2008) and went ahead to win the elections, becoming the first African American to be elected and reelected as president of the United States. These circumstances show the significant roles that the African American church had on the life and politics of the African Americans.

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African-American Culture: Church History And Impact. (2021, August 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/african-american-culture-church-history-and-impact/
“African-American Culture: Church History And Impact.” Edubirdie, 20 Aug. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/african-american-culture-church-history-and-impact/
African-American Culture: Church History And Impact. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/african-american-culture-church-history-and-impact/> [Accessed 25 May 2022].
African-American Culture: Church History And Impact [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 20 [cited 2022 May 25]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/african-american-culture-church-history-and-impact/
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