No matter what you do or don’t believe, you can’t deny that Christianity has played a massive role in African American history. While most Africans brought to the “new world” to be slaves were not Christians when they arrived, many brought with them a heritage of spirituality that was fertile ground for the selected seeds of Christianity to be planted in. Many Africans found comfort in Biblical messages because it allowed them to feel connected to their spiritual roots. There are countless historical events that prove Black Christianity undoubtedly played a crucial role in strengthening America, by fueling our drive for freedom and teaching Blacks to keep the faith and never lose hope.
Christianity was African before Slavery was American
Black people all over the world identify as being very spiritual and determined people. African Christianity first came to Africa in the 1st century AD. The Christian communities in North Africa are some of the earliest known Christians, there is documentation and archaeological finds to prove it. The native African religions produced had no written doctrine for their faith, but instead, they would rely on word of mouth. Many Africans, having practiced Islam in the Motherland, would already have been aware of the foundational and common origin stories shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Regardless of religious origin, we know that Africans arrived in America already believing in something.
African spirituality is about having your own personal experience and connections with a higher power. The lack of scriptures in native African religion led many people of that time, namely Whites, to believe that African people had no religious beliefs and spiritual life. This was not true.
In 2019 a team of archaeologists found the remains of the oldest known Christian Church in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is more proof that Christianity was in Africa years before the first slave ships arrived in. Christianity would have spread west to Alexandria in Egypt, and east to Ethiopia before becoming prominent in Rome.
Africans had passed down traditions such as medicines, the belief in spirits, faith in God, and the practice of various spiritual rituals before our ancestors were forced to accept religions popular in Europe, The Middle East, and Asia. Religion can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptian societies. When you look at the ancient deity (Horus), you can tell that it helped influence stories adopted by other world religions worldwide. History shows us that Black people are no strangers to spirituality. Today, Black Christianity lives as a survival of our African Heritage because of how deeply connected we still need to feel to God.
The Africans who were brought to America from 1619 to 1865 carried with them diverse religious traditions. Some preachers encouraged slave owners to allow their slaves to attend worship services. They would often be hosted by a pro-Slavery preacher, heavily scrutinized to make sure he was teaching slaves to obey their masters. Despite their ill intentions, slave masters who taught slaves their doctored and perverse version of Christianity, were unknowingly empowering African Americans, and their descendants with a connection to God that fueled the persistence and resilience required to fight against centuries of oppression.
Black spirituality relieved stress and allowed slaves to manage their mental turmoil. The fellowship that came from Black Christianity was of great comfort and inspired generational hope. African history didn’t start with Slavery, it was put on pause by Slavery and in many ways, Christianity enabled slaves to perpetuate a future. It was our love and connection to each other and God that kept us pushing back against the oppression and apparent hopelessness of bondage.
This evil institution extended beyond the boundaries of cruelty because it stripped us of our stories of origin, culture, languages, family, and especially our humanity. For many slave ancestors, this loss included an original, undoctored African Christianity. It is known that Christianity was, in fact, in Africa way before the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Depending on how far you want to dig into the religion’s history, you can read that before Rome’s conversion to Christianity and Jesus’s existence, stories about Horus, Osiris, and many other ancient figures tell a similar story. Many believe that story was stolen from one religion to serve many. What it proves, is that regardless of the source, the story of the Gospel was being told in Africa, long before being uttered by white lips on any plantation.
It was essential to slave masters, and their livelihood, that they painted an image of Jesus that reflected their race, reinforced their dominance and cemented the belief that obedience to the master was indeed obedience to God. The picture that our ancestors would see of Jesus would often be a Blonde hair blue-eyed white man that would become cemented into our consciousness from the minute we got off the slave ships. Even now in 2021, you will still see the images of a white Jesus in Black churches, even though the Bible is clear on the physical features of Jesus and even forbids any imagery or portrayal of him. Remnants of white dominance existed even post Slavery. Black pastors and their congregations were still being scrutinized by white Christians to make sure their preaching didn’t steer too far from the original altered story that was being told.
Emancipated minds were born in the Black Church
After emancipation, the new Black church was a significant achievement of the reconstruction era. It was the first time that the church was entirely controlled by Black people. It immediately began to play a huge part in the role of the Black community. The Black church became a place where Black people could come and worship without worrying about a slave master disrupting the services because they didn’t like what was being taught.
The second Morrill Act of 1890 mandated that states—including former confederate states, provide land-grants for learning institutions dedicated to Black students not being admitted to white colleges. The first colleges for African Americans were established largely through the efforts of Black churches. Once forbidden, Black men in American were provided the skilled training and education required to make a way and future for their families.
Before BLM There Was the Black Church
Black Christianity was very notably instrumental during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The Black church was a safe haven where African Americans could meet with neighbors, friends, and family to make plans and discuss ways to help Black communities. It was the reinforcement of our Christian values that allowed leaders to curate non-violent protests, even when violence as self-defense was expected and would have been justified. Our institutions of faith were so instrumental in the civil rights movement that certain churches in the south became historic landmarks and destinations for Black civil rights leaders and protesters. These churches included historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta GA and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Albany GA.
The humility of civil rights demonstrators is what evoked empathy and action from real allies outside of the Black community. Their belief that God was with them, helped them to endure the oppression and opposition that they faced until segregation was outlawed. The biblical beliefs that slave masters, hundreds of years prior, intended to keep us divided, were exactly what they used to exact a historic step towards equality.
The Black church is one of the essential foundations we have in America. It continues to provide a sense of pride and joy to Black people, by being one of our first opportunities for ownership. The Black church provided independence, employment, education, and counseling when there was no other source for it. Many large African American communities experienced community and unity for the first time through their faith.
Black Christianity has saved white America from itself by instilling and maintaining a desire in African Americans for Black equity and equality and not supremacy or vengeance. Black Christianity has taught Black people that it is better to forgive and refocus than to go after revenge. For decades, the Black Church has been showing all Americans what it means to keep the faith and keep going even when hope isn’t apparent.
The recent 2020 election also clearly illustrates how the Black church continues to save America. Black church leaders led campaigns and hosted church events so that volunteers could help register Black and brown people to vote. Black churches mobilizing Black communities across America to oust the Trump administration, is just the latest example of how African Americans united in faith can affect true and lasting change.
What the enemy has intended to divide and destroy America, God has used to empower and save Her. Our plight as Africans in North America is the historical pursuit of our freedom and retribution by holding on to God’s promises. God uses those who are powerless to exhibit his might. The Black Church is a living testament to this. The Black Christian continues to show America that it is important to keep fighting even when your back is against the wall.
The Africans that came to America on slave ships provided the legacy that helped fuel the Black church towards its historical accomplishments. It was the slave’s fight for knowledge and survival that has made Black Christians so persevering. The Black church has proven to be the most essential institution of our history because it allowed us to overcome oppression and prosper over centuries.
Black Christianity is the rich soil that the African American promise continues to grow from.