Black Church History
Within the institution of slavery, African Americans were expected to give up their tribal religions in favor of Christianity when brought to North America. While this did take place over time, elements of African religious traditions continued to permeate historically black churches, including singing, chanting, and clapping, all of which stood in stark contrast to the somber, strict environment that was found in predominantly white churches.
Religious practice within the institution of slavery focused more on the idea of hope for a better life after this one; when believers were faced with such hardships in their everyday lives, they turned to their faith in the hopes of picturing something better to come. Slaves who had escaped to the North, coupled with Free Blacks, worked to develop their own congregations in order to practice their faith without the overarching presence of socially dominant whites. These congregations would also serve as contact points for escaped slaves and reform societies for the abolition of slavery throughout the nation.
During Reconstruction, or the period of time after the Civil War, black churches throughout the North and South worked to improve the quality of life for former slaves. As many were faced with economic hardship and rampant discrimination, churches became a place of refuge where believers could learn to read and write, as well as develop basic job skills to help them become financially independent. Socially these churches allowed them a sense of freedom they had never experienced.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement had their foundations in black churches. Social issues could be addressed and awareness raised within the walls of these churches; the increasing integration of blacks and whites in these churches also ensured that the fight for equality was equally diverse. Today, black churches continue to serve as a focal point within the African American community, though it is much less impactful than it was in generations past.