Negro Cults in the City, Part 5 (The History of Black Americans and the Black Church #69)

Welcome to episode #69 of the The History of Black Americans and the Black Church podcast.

Our Scripture Verse for today is Galatians 5:1 which reads: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

Our History of Black Americans and the Black Church quote for today is from Lee June, a professor at Michigan State University and the author of the book, “Yet With A Steady Beat: The Black Church through a Psychological and Biblical Lens.” He writes, “The possibilities for positive working relationships between the field of psychology and the church community clearly exist. However, there are numerous challenges that must be faced head-on by both communities. In this chapter, the basic tension points have been addressed and suggestions have been made to help resolve them.”

In this podcast, we are using as our texts: From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America by E. Franklin Frazier, and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks.

Our first topic for today is titled “Colonial Slavery, Part 3: Virginia and Maryland, Part 3” from the book, “From Slavery to Freedom” by John Hope Franklin.

But the fears of insurrection were not groundless. Within two years after the first statutory recognition of slavery, the blacks of Virginia were showing clear signs of dissatisfaction and began to plot rebellion against their masters. In 1687, while a funeral was taking place, a group of slaves in the northern neck planned an uprising, but the plot was discovered before it could be carried out. Rumors continued, and plots of varying sizes were uncovered. Where there were no plots there was general disobedience and lawlessness. By 1694 Virginia slaves had become so ungovernable that Governor Edmund Andros complained that there was insufficient enforcement of the code which, by that time, had become elaborate enough to cover most of the activities of slaves.

The Virginia slave code, borrowing heavily from practices in the Caribbean and serving as a model for other mainland codes, was comprehensive if it was anything at all. Slaves were not permitted to leave plantations without the written permission of their masters. Slaves wandering about without such permits were to be returned to their masters. Slaves found guilty of murder or rape were to be hanged. For major offenses, such as robbing a house or a store, slaves were to receive sixty lashes and be placed in the pillory, where their ears were to be cut off. For petty offenses, such as insolence and associating with whites or free blacks, they were to be whipped, branded, or maimed. The docility of slaves, about which many masters boasted, was thus achieved through the enactment of a comprehensive code containing provisions fo punishment designed to break even the most irascible blacks in the colony. With the sheriffs, the courts, and even slaveless whites on their side, the masters should have experienced no difficulty in maintaining peace among their slaves.

While slavery in Maryland was not recognized by law until 1663, it came into existence shortly after the first settlements were made in 1634. As early as 1638 there was reference to slavery in some of the discussions in the legislature, and in 1641 the governor himself owned a number of slaves. Colonists had no difficulty, therefore, in turning their attention to the problem of the status of blacks and in concluding that legislation was necessary to fix their status as slaves. The law of 1663 was rather drastic. It undertook to reduce to slavery all blacks in the colony even though some were already free, and it sought to impose slave status on all blacks born in the colony regardless of the status of their mothers. It was not until 1681 that the law was brought in line with established practices by declaring that black children of white women and children born of free black women would be free.

The slave population of Maryland was slow to increase, not because of any disinclination on the part of colonists to own slaves but because they were not in ample supply during the colony’s early years. This is the principal reason why, during the restoration period, laws were enacted to encourage and facilitate the importation of slaves. In 1671 the legislature declared that the conversion of slaves to Christianity would not affect their status. Masters now felt that they could import African heathens, convert them to Christianity, and thus justify the act of holding them in slavery. By the end of the century the importation of slaves was increasing steadily. In 1708 the governor reported that 600 or 700 had been imported during the preceding ten months. By 1750 there were 40,000 blacks as compared with 100,000 whites.

If the Lord tarries His Coming and we live, we will continue looking at this topic in our next episode.


Our second topic for today is “Negro Religion in the City, Part 18: Negro Cults in the City, Part 5” from “The Negro Church in America” by E. Franklin Frazier.

Another important feature of this cult is that it does not tolerate any form of racial discrimination. Wherever Negroes and whites live together, they are required to eat and sleep together. This may account for the fact that the movement has not spread into the South. At the same time it has been suggested that the strict sexual taboos are designed to meet the eventuality that the movement may spread into the South. Nevertheless, after Mother Divine died, Father Divine married a young white woman about twenty-two years of age, who has become the new Mother Divine. The sex taboo forbids man and wife to live together. When a married couple enter the cult, they become brother and sister and can have no relations with the opposite sex. Even dancing with members of the opposite sex is forbidden.

Although intoxicants are strictly forbidden, there are no food taboos. And what is more important, business enterprises are encouraged. In fact, the movement publishes a weekly periodical, New Day, which is the sacred text of the organization rather than the Bible. New Day contains every speech uttered by Father Divine. It also carries advertisements of many large and well-known commercial enterprises. Every advertisement carries within its text the injunction: ‘Peace’ and sometimes adds ‘Thank you, Father’. The use of such words as Negro and white is forbidden. A single copy of New Day may contain 132 pages filled, with the exception of the advertisements, with the words and activities of Father Divine.

If the Lord tarries His Coming and we live, we will continue looking at this topic in our next episode.


Our third and final topic for today is from “The Black Church in the U.S.: Its Origin, Growth, Contributions, and Outlook” by Dr. William A. Banks.

Today we are looking at part 12 of Chapter 5: “Radicalism: 1915 – 1953”

Perhaps the largest and best known of the Apostolics is The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, founded by the late Bishop Sherrod C. Johnson. Born in Halifax County, North Carolina, in 1898, Johnson went to Philadelphia before he was twenty to become a businessman. He met several holiness preachers in North Philadelphia and shortly afterward, according to a church spokesman, differed with them and started preaching in his home. As the number of his followers grew, they moved three times to larger quarters. In October 1947 the church purchased the building of the Bethany Collegiate Presbyterian Church for $105,000. Founded in 1858 by John Wanamaker, who was superintendent of its Sunday School until his death in 1922, it was considered one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the world. The building burned to the ground in November 1958. Betty Ann McDowell, ten years old, one of about 1,500 worshipers when the seven-alarm blaze was discovered, died in the building.

Bishop Johnson immediately set out to build a one-story structure with a seating capacity of 3,500. The basement chapel accomodates 1,500 and there are offices, a dining hall, a nursery, and a studio room for broadcasts. The building was constructed with a minimum of paid labor. Workmen and laborers who were church members contributed hours of work. Bishop Johnson insisted that the building proceed on a pay-as-you-go basis. There were no mortgages, no indebtedness, and no public solicitation of funds, although estimates at that time of the value of the structure ranged to one million dollars.

If the Lord tarries His Coming and we live, we will continue looking at this topic in our next episode.

Let’s have a word of prayer.

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 the church people whom I grew up around said “being saved” was I now know is wrong according to the Bible. For example, joining the church, being baptized, doing good things, or being a good person does not mean you are saved. I wrote an article about this matter titled “On ‘Being Saved’ in Black America” which is available for you to read free of charge on our website, 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.”

If you do that today, then you can truly sing in the words of the Old Negro spiritual: Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty I’m free at last.

Until next time, may God richly bless you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s