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Welcome to episode #1 of the The History of Black Americans and the Black Church podcast. My name is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. Since it is hard to separate Black American history and Black Church history I am combining the two. Though it will sometimes seem as if we are on two different tracks, I am combining the two because they are so intertwined. As many of you know, the church and religion has played and continues to play a big role in the African-American community. Yet, many of us who grew up in the traditional black church do not have an understanding of how our faith evolved under the duress of slavery and discrimination to be and to represent what it does today. The purpose of this broadcast is to provide that background knowledge while also pointing out the dividing line between what is just tradition and true faith in Jesus Christ.
Our Scripture verse for today is Luke 23:26 which reads: “And as they led [Jesus] away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.”
Our BA and BC quote for today is from the educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune. She said, “Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”
In this podcast, we will be using as our texts From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America/The Black Church Since Frazier by E. Franklin Frazier and C. Eric Lincoln and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks.
Let’s begin with John Hope Franklin’s book, From Slavery to Freedom as he deals with early Christianity in Africa:
Christianity became entrenched in North Africa early. It was there when Islam made its appearance in the seventh century, and these two great faiths engaged in a life-and-death struggle for the control of that area. In West Africa, where the population was especially dense and from which the great bulk of slaves was secured, Christianity was practically unknown until the Portuguese began to establish missions in the area in the sixteenth century. It was a strange religion, this Christianity, which taught equality and brotherhood and at the same time introduced on a large scale the practice of tearing people from their homes and transporting them to a distant land to become slaves. If the Africans south of the Sahara were slow to accept Christianity, it was not only because they were attached to their particular forms of communal worship but also because they did not have the superhuman capacity to reconcile the contradictory character of the new religion.
Now, our main topic for today is titled, “The Religion of the Slaves: the Break With the African Background”. Frazier writes:
In studying any phase of the character and the development of the social and cultural life of the Negro in the United States, one must recognize from the beginning that because of the manner in which the Negroes were captured in Africa and enslaved, they were practically stripped of their social heritage. Although the area in West Africa from which the majority of the slaves were drawn exhibits a high degree of cultural homogeneity, the capture of many of the slaves in intertribal wars and their selection for the slave markets tended to reduce to a minimum the possibility of the retention and the transmission of African culture. The slaves captured in the intertribal wars were generally males and those selected for the slave markets on the African coasts were the young and the most vigorous. This was all in accordance with the demands of the slave markets in the New World. One can get some notion of this selective process from the fact that it was not until 1840 that the number of females equalled the number of males in the slave population of the United States! Young males, it will be readily agreed, are poor bearers of the cultural heritage of a people.
But the manner in which the slaves were held for the slave ships that transported them to the New World also had an important influence upon the transmission of the African social heritage to the new environment. They were held in baracoons, a euphemistic term for concentration camps at the time, where the slaves without any regard for sex or family and tribal affiliations were kept until some slaver came along to buy a cargo for the markets of the New World. This period of dehumanization was followed by the “middle passage,” the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the slave markets of the West Indies and finally the indigo, tobacco, and cotton plantations of what was to become later the United States. During the “middle passage,” the Negroes were packed spoon-fashion in the slave ships, where no regard was shown for sex or age differences, not to mention such matters as clan and tribal differences. In fact, no regard was shown for such elementary social, or shall I say human, considerations as family ties.
In the New World the process by which the Negro was stripped of his social heritage and thereby, in a sense, dehumanized was completed. There was first the size of the plantation, which had a significant influence upon the extent and nature of the contacts between the slaves and the whites. On the large sugar and cotton plantations in the Southern States there was, as in Brazil and the West Indies, little contact between whites and the Negro slaves. Under such conditions there was some opportunity for the slaves to undertake to re-establish their old ways. As a matter of fact, however, the majority of slaves in the United States were on small farms and small plantations. In some of the upland cotton regions of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and
Arkansas the median number of slaves per holding did not reach twenty; while in regions of general agriculture based mainly upon slave labor in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee the median number of slave holdings was even smaller.
Then slaves freshly imported from Africa were usually “broken in” to the plantation regime. According to the descriptions given by a traveler in Louisiana, the new slaves were only “gradually accustomed to work. They are made to bathe often, to take long walks from time to time, and especially to dance; they are distributed in small numbers among old slaves in order to dispose them better to acquire their habits.” Apparently from all reports, these new slaves with their African ways were subjected to the disdain, if not hostility, of Negroes who had become accommodated to the plantation regime and had acquired the ways of their new environment.
Of what did accommodation to their new environment consist? It was necessary to acquire some knowledge of the language of whites for communication. Any attempt on the part of the slaves to preserve or use their native language was discouraged or prohibited. They were set to tasks in order to acquire the necessary skills for the production of cotton or sugar cane. On the small farms very often the slaves worked in the fields with their white owners. On the larger plantations they were under the strict discipline of the overseer, who not only supervised their work but who also in the interest of security maintained a strict surveillance over all their activities. It was a general rule that there could be no assembly of five or more slaves without the presence of a white man. This applied especially to their gathering for religious purposes. Later we shall see how the slaves were soon introduced into the religious life of their white masters. All of this tended to bring about as completely as possible a loss of the Negro’s African cultural heritage.
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On our next episode, we will look at the loss of social cohesion among the slaves.
In closing, allow me to say that like many of you, I grew up in a very religious and church-going family, and during that time, I often heard the phrase “Being Saved.” Now, much of what church people said “being saved” was I now know is wrong according to the Bible. I wrote an article about it titled “On ‘Being Saved’ in Black America” which is available for you to read free of charge on our website, gospellightsociety.com. Right now, I want to share with you very briefly what the Bible says “being saved” really is.
First, understand that you need to be saved because you are a sinner. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Second, understand that a horrible punishment — eternal Hell — awaits those who are not saved. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus Christ said that God will say to those who are not saved, “depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Third, realize that God loves you very much and wants to save you from Hell. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you want to be saved from Hell and be guaranteed a home in Heaven, simply believe in Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose from the dead for your sins, and then call upon the Lord in prayer and ask Him to save your soul. And believe me, He will. Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Until next time, may God richly bless you.
Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in twenty-three foreign countries. He is the author of thirty-four books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts, The Prayer Motivator Devotional and the Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report and the Second Coming Watch Update. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, and a Master’s degree in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for twenty-five years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at www.danielwhyte3.com. Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.