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Henry Louis Gates Jr., the renowned historian and Harvard professor, wrote a new book today. The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song (Penguin Press) is the notable companion to a two-part PBS / WETA documentary series that debuts at 9 p.m. Eastern tonight and includes interviews with Oprah, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson and many others .
The book and series trace the Black Church’s 400-year journey in America and examine how it became the center of black culture in American life and politics. As Gates writes, “The Black Church was the cultural cauldron that blacks created to combat a system that in every way serves to destroy their spirits. And the culture they created was sublime, great, majestic, lofty, glorious and subversive in all respects to the greater culture of enslavement that sought to destroy their humanity. “
The volume is dedicated to the memory of Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights icon who was a self-ordained Baptist minister.
In addition to examining the role of the Black Church in America and its origins, the report also contains personal information Anecdotes from a variety of prominent politicians, entertainers and Church leaders, as well as memories from the author, for example of the first time He saw a churchgoer who spoke in tongues. It also contains a collection of portraits and photos of some of the many preachers, evangelists, and missionaries who have shaped the Black Church since its inception in the 18th century.
O’s book editor Leigh Haber sat down with Professor Gates to learn more about how Black Church history became his latest passion project.
We recently had a press conference with the TCA, the Television Critics Association – John Legend, one of the show’s executive producers, and Yolanda Adams , the great gospel singer, and me. This man said, « Well, how do you feel about the fact that your people have adopted a white religion, that they learned it, that they didn’t bring it with them on the slave ship? » And I said, « One of the points in the film, one of the big surprises, is that between 8 and 20% of our enslaved ancestors were practicing Muslims when they first got here. Islam came to West Africa in the 10th century. And in the 12th century was widespread in Senegal and Gambia, and the King of Congo converted to Roman Catholicism in 1491.
Boston University historian John Thornton estimates that about 20% of our ancestors were baptized Congolese Catholics, two of the three Abrahamic religions represented in the slave population – Catholics, Muslims and people who practiced traditional African ancestor worship, all thrown into the new world together. And from this stew of embracing and reshaping Christianity emerged the identity of the cultural identity of our people and a form of Religion that we all see as the black church, I wanted to get that out of my system because this guy really kicked everyone out and said, « Well, you guys just came here with nothing. » We came here with a lot of SOMETHING.
The Black Church was the heart of our political life that was on the abolitionist movement and then going back during the reconstruction and then fighting the setbacks of the reconstruction. Of the 16 black men elected to Congress during the reconstruction, 3 were ministers. Of the 2,000 black men elected or appointed to public office during the reconstruction, 243 were ministers.
Without the Black Church, there would have been no civil rights movement. The entire civil rights movement was born in the church. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a Harlem Congressman, was an ordained minister. Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta, was an ordained minister. Congressman John Lewis was an ordained minister. And now a new Senator, Senator Rob Warnock of Georgia, is an ordained minister.
Yes absolutely. Just check out Reverend William J. Barber II of the New Poor People’s Campaign or the Black Church PAC founded by Reverend Leah Daughtry, as well as the social justice initiatives from Potter’s House and TD Jakes Church. and Trinity Church, Otis Moss III Church and Bishop Blake’s Church in Los Angeles and many, many more. Not to mention Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. That’s 200 years of black history right there.
Well, I’ll give you a quote from the horse’s mouth. Eldridge Cleaver was one of the leaders of the Black Panthers, and in 1974, when I was a student in England, I also worked part-time for Time Magazine. And I found out that Cleaver was in exile in Paris. I got his phone number and called him. First he said, « How do I know you’re not a CIA agent? »
I got to the point and said, « I work for Time and study literature man. I just want to be famous and interview you. » So I interviewed him for 12 hours and one of the questions I asked him was, « What do you think was the biggest mistake the Black Panthers made? » At that point it was the Panthers. Their dream of revolution was not going to materialize. He said, « The biggest mistake we made, was trying to kill the Church. ”He said,“ Black Americans will never do anything if you attack the Church. ” »
The Black Church is part of our cultural DNA. If I go in for two months every summer Going to Martha’s Vineyard to write my books and scripts, I go to church on Sunday. Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who incorporated the University of Georgia 50 years ago in January, is dragging me, saving me a space and the church is It’s Union Chapel and it always is full.
There are some believers, but the reason we all go – believing or not – is to be wrapped in the warmth of the black cultural blanket woven by our experiences in the Church. It’s our common cultural denominator. This experience of getting dressed, getting the new Easter suit or dress and hat at Easter, learning to say your piece for Easter, learning to sing in the choir. Sit on hard benches when the ministers walked on too long. This is a celebration of the culture that arose when our ancestors reformed and reshaped Christianity – European forms of Christianity that we reshaped in our own image. And so the church became a laboratory for the creation of a new culture, a new African world culture.
These words come from the Blessed Assurance, a Christian hymn written in 1873 by a blind white woman named Fanny Crosby. Blacks took that and made it almost an anthem. Everyone knows this song and every black church sings this song.
Yes, many spirituals were derived from the King James Bible. These people were creative geniuses. They borrowed, riffed, meant, revised and blackened it.
Yes that is correct. I can’t put it better. This is our story. This is our song.
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