In this paper I will discuss the African customs that are investigated in the opinion towards Spiritual Leaders, the way families are for the most part headed on the maternal side, and the social standards the two societies share. The importance of Spiritual Leaders in both African and African-American culture is that it can make or break a movement, in regard to the Civil Rights Movement or help bring health initiatives to the community. It also talks about the value of Mothers in the community. The impact of African music in the African-American community.
African Culture in The African-American Community
Before Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492, or the first slave stepped fresh off the boats in Jamestown in 1619, African American Ancestors had a sense of self in African social constructs. Scholars like Edward Franklin Frazier a renowned sociologist would say that African social milieu does not manifest itself within the African American culture, but it was slowly and surely diluted through the generations to what we see as the African American culture today due to forced assimilation and integrating of different tribes left scattered languages and identities across the country. While every position to an argument has an opposition, the opposition for Dr. Frazier’s argument comes in the form of Dr. Melvin Jean Herskovits who states in his book The Myth of Negro Past that to understand the negro in America you must understand the African Origin and Traditions they had before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Despite the geographical differences and ancestry disconnection, African traditions still appear in African American culture today. African traditions are still explored in the attitudes towards Spiritual Leaders, the way households are mostly headed on the maternal side, and the social norms both cultures share.
The Influence of Spiritual Leaders
African-American church refers to Protestant 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). Most of the first black congregations and churches formed before 1800 were founded by free blacks – for example, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Springfield Baptist Church (Augusta, Georgia); Petersburg, Virginia; and Savannah, Georgia. The oldest black Baptist church in Kentucky, and third oldest in the United States, was founded about 1790 by the slave Peter Durrett(South).
After slavery was abolished, segregationist attitudes in both the North and the South discouraged and even 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 (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011).
These new churches created communities and worship practices that were culturally distinct from other churches, including unique and empowering forms of Christianity that hybridized African spiritual traditions. African-American churches have long been the centers of communities, serving as school sites in the early years after the Civil War, taking up social welfare functions, such as providing for the indigent, and going on to establish schools, orphanages and prison ministries. As a result, black churches have fostered strong community organizations and provided spiritual and political leadership, especially during the civil rights movement (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011).
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was both a preacher and civil rights activist, he helped bridge the gap between politics and religion for African Americans. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King calls for white clergyman to stop playing both sides of the fence when it comes to civil rights and that he was merely doing what his affiliates had called him down to Alabama for. He states, “I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia…Several months ago, the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So, I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here” (Jr., 1963). The Letter from Birmingham Jail was a turning point in the fight for civil rights because it criticized those who were fine with being affiliated to a peaceful nonviolent approach to protesting but turned their backs on fellow Christians when the protest did not go as planned. It also addressed those who thought they would not be affected by the injustice bestowed upon the black community.
The importance of Spiritual Leaders in both African and African American culture is that it can make or break a movement, in regard to the Civil Rights Movement or help bring health initiatives to the community. In Africa, Spiritual Leaders are necessary in the way certain countries interact with each other and those outside the African culture. According to African Novelist and Writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Spiritual Leaders in Nigeria have played a pivotal role in the elections of government officials, because of the following they carry in their ministry. Spiritual Leaders such as TB Joshua a famous Nigerian Cleric whose ministry brought about awareness and healing for a multitude of illnesses, including the recent Ebola epidemic, thereby helping to prevent further expansion of current and future outbreaks (Nwaubani, 2014).
Nwaubani jokingly says, “that if the leaders of Nigeria’s five largest churches merely hint that no-one should have anything further to do with Chinua Achebe, the author’s fan base and book sales in his home country would instantly, unquestionably plunge and his works would eventually be struck off the national curriculum, regardless of how widely acclaimed he is around the world.” That paints a nice picture of how big religion plays in the everyday life of Africans. The importance of Spiritual Leaders in both African and African American culture is that it can make or break a movement, in regard to the Civil Rights Movement or help bring health initiatives to the community.
Melville Herskovits, believed there was no issue with the black matriarchy in his writings in the 1940s. According to Herskovits, the black matriarchy was present during slavery as women and her children were less likely to be split apart than the father and his children. He also saw the matriarchal structure as a continuation from West African practices. (Herskovits, 1941) To emphasize this point even more in Africa certain tribes are ran by the mothers of the village, The Asante tribe in Ghana has the Matrilineal descent as the basis for Asante social organization. Every individual belongs to the mother’s clan, one of seven or eight clans, and marriage is exogamous, which is the marrying outside of one’s community, tribe, or clan. All successions are matrilineal, including those who are qualified to occupy the stool of the queen mother or chief in every town and division. Those individuals, who are the members of the royal family in every town and division, are descended through the lineage of their mother like all other Asante (and Akan), and trace their identity to an early ancestress. (Stoeltje, 1997)
The fact that there are nations that are governed by women is a progressive ideology to the western society, African-American women have also been the front runners to social movements and adversaries to the systematically browbeaten. According to Susan Kramer of NPR News, On March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin, a 15-year old student at Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery boarded a bus with three other women. When white passengers boarded the bus, Colvin and the three other black women were ordered to surrender their seats. Two of the women did, but Colvin and one other woman refused. After the bus driver summoned police, the remaining woman with Colvin ran away from the scene, leaving Colvin alone, still refusing to give up her seat. Police handcuffed and arrested Colvin, and forcibly removed her from the bus, as she screamed that her Constitutional rights were being violated. A year later, Colvin and others were witnesses in the groundbreaking Browder v. Gayle federal court case that had ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama. (Kramer, 2015)
Due to the breaking down of the African-American family during slavery, it is often expected that the mother is the head of household. Dr. Frazier research was among the first to show that the female was becoming the dominant figure in the black family. In contrast to most African customs, the slave system established the pattern in which the black woman became head of the family, given the less secure position of the black male (Frazier, P.235). He argued that the pattern of the female-headed family changed with the Emancipation Proclamation, which placed the black male as head of the household. From Reconstruction up until the First World War, mass migration to big northern cities, job discrimination, inadequate education, low income, and other social and economic forces limiting integration and assimilation of blacks into the wider society led to widespread disorganization among black families living in the big urban cities.
Frazier theorized that the disorganization in the family resulted in the black female’s reassuming the dominant role, the role she held under slavery. It is vital to understand that some African traditions do affect the African-American culture, for instance the way some African nations regard women higher than or equal to men because of the lineage they hold and to honor their ancestors. The way this is instilled into the African-American culture is when they refer to black mothers as Queens alluding to the Queen Mothers of Africa.
African Infused Socialization
Stevie Wonder once said that music is a world within itself, it is a language we all understand. West African music has influenced African-American culture with the Call and Response organization, the dominance of percussions, and the off-beat phrasing of melodic accents found in the work songs, spirituals, blues and jazz. If one was to look at the history of African-American music they would see that the 1920s was the kick starter to the integrating of African-American artistry in predominately white industries. The Harlem Renaissance was revolutionary in the African American culture, a lot of artist looked towards African symbolism and artwork as muse for their pieces, such as Lois Mailou Jones’s Les Ftiches which is an abstract paint with a motif of African Masks (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011).
Hair has a big part in the social aspects of African and African American cultures, maintaining a style in African culture is used to signify if a person is ready for marrying or if they are a grieving widow. In African culture hair is seen as the extension of one’s soul on the outside. African Americans have used head scarfs to keep their hair out of sight during slavery because their natural curls and kinks were seen as unkempt, today it’s used as a fashion statement. This also could be said for the types of braiding styles that have recently became a trend, cornrows were often worn by slaves that work inside the household of slave owners. In today’s time we see a plethora of people from all races take on cornrows with intricate stylings or jewels. There is not one single type of African hair, just as there is not one single type of African. According to Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharp’s research in their book Hair Story: Untangling The Roots of Black Hair in America , The variety of hair textures from western Africa alone ranges from the deep ebony, kinky curls of the Mandingos to the loosely curled, flowing locs of the Ashanti. The one constant Africans share when it comes to hair is the social and cultural significance intrinsic to each beautiful strand (Byrd & Tharps, 2014).
Dance is also a part of the social culture in the African community. In the African culture, a dance is usually done by a community or group and for a specific purpose. The idea of Utilitarianism suggests that the value of a thing depends on its use, and not its beauty. In many ways, African music is a utilitarian function used in vital aspects of life such as, a child’s naming ceremony, initiation rites, agricultural activities, national ceremonies, war times, religious ceremonies and ceremonies for the dead.
Sadly, many of the North American slave owners prohibited Africans from performing most of their traditional dances. The importance and spirit of dance were not stopped by these restrictions, however. African slaves found ways to adapt their dancing and continue their traditions in secret. Out of necessity this caused some changes in the dances. For example, since slaves were prohibited from lifting their feet, they created moves that included shuffling the feet and moving the hips and body (Franklin & Higginbotham, 2011). African-Americans celebrate using dance like the electric slide a common group dance that is seen at weddings, graduation parties, birthday parties, even the family cookout. Dance unites both cultures by letting the African Americans have a secure root in their history of Africa and Africans get to keep their traditions alive and bond with those who are eager to learn about African Tradition.
After thoroughly researching the African culture and finding similarities in the African-American culture, I’ve found out that wearing your hair in certain styles can connect you to others around you. Dance has a way of telling stories within the community around us, and African music does influence Blues, Jazz and Gospel music. Herskovits and Frazier both have solid arguments when it comes to the discussing the differences and similarities in both cultures. I still side with Herskovits, it is the African culture such as honoring the mother, the positive attitude towards spiritual leaders, and how the community socializes that we see in the African- American culture.
- Byrd, A. D., & Tharps, L. L. (2014). Hair Story: Untangling The Roots of Black Hair in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Franklin, J. H., & Higginbotham, E. B. (2011). From Slavery To Freedom. New York City: McGraw-Hill.
- Herskovits, M. (1941). The Myth of The Negro Past. Boston: Beacon Press .
- Jr., D. M. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Why We can’t wait. Birmingham.
- Kramer, S. K. (2015, March 2). Before Rosa Parks, A Teenager Defied Segregation On An Alabama Bus. United States of America.
- Nwaubani, A. T. (2014, November 7). Letter From Africa: Power of Religion. Retrieved March 14, 2018
- Stoeltje, B. J. (1997). Asante Queen Mothers. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 810, 3.
- Frazier, E. (1948). Ethnic Family Patterns: The Negro Family in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 53(6), 435-438. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2770758