Monday, February 02, 2009

Reflecting on the African-American Church During Black History Month

Yesterday, February 1st, began African-American history month. The annual celebration of African-American history began at the initiative of esteemed scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950). Woodson is regarded by many as the father of Black history, and a copious preserver of that historical heritage. He participated in the founding of the Society for the Study of African American Life and History and for years ran an influential publication called The Journal of Negro History.

African-American history month began as "Negro History Week" in 1926. Woodson settled on the second week in February because it fell between the birthdays of what he considered the two greatest Americans, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. From the start, there was a recognition that Black history was inseparably tied to American history.

In 1921, Woodson published a study entitled The History of the Negro Church (electronic version here). He outlined and explored the subject as follows:


I. --Early Missionaries and the Negro . . . . . 1
II. --The Dawn of the New Day . . . . . 23
III.-- Pioneer Negro Preachers . . . . . 40
IV. --The Independent Church Movement . . . . . 71
V.-- Early Development . . . . . 100
VI. --The Schism and the Subsequent Situation . . . . . 123
VII. --Religious Instruction Revived . . . . . 148
VIII. --Preachers of Versatile Genius . . . . . 167
IX.-- The Civil War and the Church . . . . . 185
X. -- Religious Education as a Preparation . . . . . 202
XI. --The Call of Politics . . . . 220
XII.-- The Conservative and Progressive . . . . . 247
XIII. --The Negro Church Socialized . . . . . 266
XIV. --The Recent Growth of the Negro Church . . . . . 286
XV. --The Negro Church of To-day . . . . . 300

Many African-American scholars took considered interest in the Black church, and found there tremendous resources for interpreting the African-American experience. Indeed, doomed is any attempt to understand the history and the ways of African Americans without understanding the predominantly Black church.

Off and on during the month of February, I hope to post some reflections on the history of the African-American church and the prospects for her future. These are reflections on God's glorious providence among a people within a people within in a people. For to discuss African-American Christianity is to focus on a Christian people belonging to the wider Christian family, and to reflect on a citizenry amongst a wider American commonwealth. The immersion and the emergence of African Americans in and from both milieus complicates and enriches the story of African Americans, Christians, and America. It's good for us to pause and reflect on the mysterious ways of God among His people. Thank you, Carter G. Woodson, for calling us to pause and reflect. May the Lord guide and make fruitful our meditations on His wondrous works of providence.


David Reimer said...

In case it's of interest, there is a hi-res PDF of the 1921 volume available on Internet Archive (along with many other works by Woodson!).

David Reimer

Matthew said...

I currently attend an inner-city PCA church heavily influenced by African-American traditions, so I'm really looking forward to this series! God bless!

Doc. K. said...

Great post. I currently have a similar daily series on my web site that your readers may also find enlightening:

Anonymous said...

Hey Pastor Thabiti!!! This is Brandon Wrencher from Durham, NC. I am really looking forward to this series of post!! I have been doing a lot of studying on the black church/theology since we talked at Southeastern Seminary.

~Mark said...

My hope is that soon we will not divide the church by color title. I know we use "African-American", but we all know that is an American euphemism for "Black".

I will jump for joy when one day we say instead, "the church in Pittsburgh, the church in London, the church in Tokyo" and so on.