After the Civil War Black Churches Apex

After the Civil War Black Churches Apex.

Blackness churches were at the eye of remaking the U.s.a.’ post-Ceremonious State of war political system into i that incorporated formerly enslaved blackness men into the body politic and revised the legal code to provide civil rights to these new citizens.  Blackness Baptist and Episcopal Churches of Virginia provide insight into how black people began to access the levers of political change. These blackness Christians recrafted their communities in alignment with the extant practice around who could be included in the body politic (men), while determining on what terms (some form of racial and political or civic equality) and past what ways (on the footing of networks and political representation). In this way the black Baptist and Episcopal Churches played an important function in advancing biracial democracy.

Upon emancipation, the civil and political rights and responsibilities of black men and women had withal to be defined.  And while participants in the freedmen conventions relatively easily identified voting rights as a goal, black churches immediately became sites in which church members worked out the terms of internal and external political participation in ways that reinforced the larger political transformation of emancipation.[ane]  The exclusion of women from the decision-making, officeholding, and visible leadership posts in church meetings and conventions was an area where the overlap in the internal politics of churches and the external politics of the state became evident.  While some women, through their roles as teachers, were able to exercise authority “without visibly disrupting male leadership,” other women were simply excluded from positions of authority altogether.[2]  This happened in the Gilfield Baptist Church building when women, who in 1868 were permitted to bring men to exist disciplined in cases of unwed pregnancy, were in 1870 denied the right to do then on the footing that the practice was unscriptural and damaging to the community.[iii]   In an attempt to establish respectability and biblical fidelity, this church adopted practices that excluded women from leadership and decision-making roles.  The practice overlapped with and was reinforced by the federal government’s policies, other social organizations, and blackness communities’ own practices of protecting black women from violence by keeping them at home or in school.[4]  In a higher place all, information technology coincided with the seemingly inexorable push to secure voting rights for Black men.

George Freeman Bragg, 1883. Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Johnston Memorial Library, Virginia State University.

While church building practices reinforced gendered political outcomes, churches also fostered a collaboration across racial lines that provided social and intellectual foundations that allowed biracial coalitions to emerge.  In some sense beingness members of predominantly white churches like the Episcopal Church allowed black men and women to develop a framework for working in hostile territory. Reverend George Freeman Bragg, a Blackness Episcopal priest, suggested as much when he noted how racial independence had made the AME Church the root of contained black political activity, while black members of the Episcopal Church had argued the case for equality within the church past “bearing witness to the ‘Fatherland of God and the Brotherhood of All Men.’” [five]  Afterwards existence dismissed from school on the basis of the racist merits that he “was not humble enough,” Bragg joined the Readjuster motility in which he witnessed the political recognition of black humanity and proof of black political possibility.[half-dozen]He learned about making coalitions beyond racial lines that did not call for a denial of blackness or black rights both from the Readjuster Movement and from being in the Episcopal Church. Bragg’s life suggests that we might envision the political foundation of biracial democracy in the intersections of churches, politics and race.

Regional and state associations of black churches were also central to the emergence of a racial consciousness. As Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham wrote, “Race consciousness reached its apogee with the creation of the National Baptist Convention U.Due south.A. in 1895.”[7]  In cultivating church building associations, black Christians created networks that overlapped party politics.  The recordkeeping practices of Baptist regional and statewide associations stimulated in blackness voters a sense of their ability as voting  blocs.  The associations kept record of their membership  every bit testimony to the growth of the faith.  In the 1880s, Rev. Henry Williams, statistician of a handful of Virginia’southward regional associations and the Virginia Baptist State Convention, noted where the numbers of black Baptists were growing.  In 1886, he lamented, “information technology is lamentable to see and so many blanks in the American Baptist yearbook” and that “a full and authentic statistic cannot exist given of the colored Baptist.”[8]  Even when the records were not forthcoming, he could see that the organized religion was expanding on the local landscape.  The copious logs of local church names, locations, numbers of members, pastor’s names and post office addresses provided a much more consummate view. Statewide conventions also helped to form broader geographies of belonging that transcended local lines and approached regional state and eventually national scope.  This larger conceptualization of customs paralleled the political transformation of patronage politics in the Readjuster Party.

Black participation in biracial coalitions had deep underpinnings in black religious communities. Black Baptists and Episcopalians participated in coalitions, not out of ignorance, but out of a sense of the ability of their networks.  In and through their church communities, they engaged in some of the key political processes that transformed the nation later on the emancipation.  Churches were political spaces where church building members established power, belonging and accountability.  Black churches did more than create atoms of organizational influence or singular leaders; they intersected with and reinforced some of the political currents of the moment.  Black Baptist and Episcopal Churches fostered developments of gendered and racial political practices that pointed toward a reconstruction that not only was based on male suffrage, but besides pointed toward a biracial republic inclusive of black independence and political date.

[1] Kate Masur,
An Example for All the Country: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C.
(Chapel Hill: The University of Northward Carolina Printing, 2010), chapter 3.

[ii] Anthea Butler,
Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified Globe
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 36.

[3] Nicole Myers Turner,
Soul Liberty: The evolution of Blackness Religious Politics in Postemancipation Virginia
(Chapel Hill: The Academy of North Carolina Press, 2020).

[4] Elsa Barkley Brownish, “Negotiating and transforming the public sphere: African American political life in the transition from slavery to liberty,” in
The Black public sphere: a public culture book, ed. Jr. Bakery, Houston, Black Literature and Culture (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Printing, 1995), 127; Glenda Gilmore,
Gender and Jim Crow: women and the politics of white supremacy in N Carolina, 1896-1920, (N Carolina: University of Due north Carolina Press, 1996); Angela Davis, Reflection on the Black Woman’southward Role in the Community of Slaves,
The Blackness Scholar3 (December 1971).

[five] George F. Bragg,
Richard Allen and Absalom Jones
(Baltimore: Church building Abet Printing, 1916).

[6] George F. Bragg,
The Colored harvest in the Old Virginia Diocese
(Baltomore: s.north., 1901), 18; George F. Bragg et al., “Additional Information and Correction in Reconstruction Records,”
The Periodical of Negro History
5, no. 2 (April 1920): 243, 242.

[7] Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham,
Righteous Discontent: The Women’southward Motion in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920(Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Printing, 1993), 6; James Melvin Washington,
Frustrated Fellowship: The Blackness Baptist Quest for Social Power
(Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Printing, 1986), 139.

[8] “Minutes of the sixth almanac session of the Bethany Baptist Clan (Colored) of Virginia held September 22-24, A.D. 1886,”  (1886) 7, 8.

Nicole Turner

Nicole Myers Turner is an assistant professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. She is the writer of Soul Freedom: The Development of Black Religious Politics in Postemancipation Virginia (UNC Press, 2020).

After the Civil War Black Churches Apex