LISTEN: The Great Migration; The Religion of the Slaves, Part 2; The Rise of Songhay (The History of Black Americans and the Black Church #10 with Daniel Whyte III)

Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

Welcome to episode #10 of the The History of Black Americans and the Black Church podcast. My name is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. Since it is hard to separate Black American history and Black Church history I am combining the two because they are so intertwined. As many of you know, the church and religion has played and continues to play a big role in the African American community. Yet, many of us who grew up in the traditional black church do not have an understanding of how our faith evolved under the duress of slavery and discrimination to be and to represent what it does today. The purpose of this broadcast is to provide that background knowledge while also pointing out the dividing line between what is just tradition and true faith in Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture verse for today is Isaiah 40:31 which reads: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

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 said, “While reflecting on the history of the “Black Church,” it is critical to remember that what is called the “Black Church” is not an institution that was developed to stay away from Whites. Rather, slavery, the legacy of slavery, White supremacy, racism, and discrimination were the driving forces leading to its formation and development. Speaking to this point, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘I say ‘so called Negro Church’ because ideally there can be no Negro or white church. It is to their everlasting shame that white Christians developed a system of racial segregation within the church, and inflicted so many indignities upon its Negro worshippers that they had to organize their own churches.'”

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. If you enjoy this podcast, please feel free to purchase any one of these books from our website,

Our first topic today is a continuation of some good work done for the “God In America” series titled “The Origins of the Black Church” which was aired by the Public Broadcasting Service. This is just a brief historical overview; we will delve into these topics in greater detail in upcoming episodes.


Between 1890 and 1930, 2.5 million black people, mostly poor and working class, left their homes in the South and relocated in cities of the North. This influx of Southerners transformed Northern black Protestant churches and created what historian Wallace Best calls a “new sacred order.” Best’s study of the impact of the Great Migration in Chicago explores the dynamics of this transformation. Accustomed to a more emotional style of worship, Southerners imbued churches with a “folk” religious sensibility. The distinctive Southern musical idiom known as “the blues” evolved into gospel music. The themes of exile and deliverance influenced the theological orientation of the churches. Women filled the pews; in Chicago, 70 percent of churchgoers were women. Responding to the immediate material and psychological needs of new congregants, black churches undertook social service programs.

Few ministers were more aware of the impact of the Great Migration than the Rev. Lacey K. Williams of Olivet Baptist Church, the oldest Baptist church in Chicago. In an essay published in the Chicago Sunday Tribune in 1929, Williams argued that black churches must respond to the practical and spiritual needs of people struggling to adjust to urban life; the churches must be “passionately human, but no less divine.” Under Williams’ leadership, Olivet developed a program of progressive social reform, reaching out to new migrants, providing them with social services and knitting them into the larger church community. Olivet Church became the largest African American church — and the largest Protestant church — in the entire nation.

In the South, rural immigrants poured into major cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, where they contributed to established congregations and encouraged the growth of new ones. But in rural areas, churches struggled to cope with the weakening social structure that had once sustained them. Ministers were not always educated. But it was the lay members — deacons, ushers, choirs, song leaders, Sunday school teachers and “mothers” of the congregation — who gave the churches their vitality and strength. Church socials, Sunday picnics, Bible study and praise meetings encouraged social cohesion, heightened a sense of community and nurtured hope in the face of discrimination and violence. By the 1950s, the infrastructure of black churches and the moral resilience they encouraged had laid the foundation for the crusade that would transform the political and religious landscape of America: the civil rights movement.

We will continue this brief historical overview of the black church in our next podcast.


Our second topic for today is “The Religion of the Slaves: The Christian Religion Provides a New Basis of Social Cohesion, Part 2” from The Negro Church in America by E. Franklin Frazier. He writes:

Unfortunately, we do not possess very detailed records on the religious behavior of the Negroes who became converts to Christianity through the missionary efforts of the Society, nor did the missionaries who worked under the auspices of the Moravians, Quakers, Presbyterians, and Catholics leave illuminating accounts of the response of the Negro slaves to their efforts. We do not know, for example, to what extent the converted slaves resumed their old “heathen” ways or combined the new religious practices and beliefs with the old. In this connection it should be noted that the missionaries recognized the difficulty of converting the adult Africans and concentrated their efforts on the children. However, there is no evidence that there was the type of syncretism or fusion of Christian beliefs and practices with African religious ideas and rituals such as one finds in a religion brought by Africans to Brazil. Despite the reported success in the conversion of Negroes, a study of the situation has revealed that only a small proportion of the slaves in the American colonies could be included among even nominal Christians. In fact, the activities of the Anglican missionaries were directed to individuals whose isolation in the great body of slaves was increased.


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

In recent days the numbers of “Black Studies” courses and books have proliferated. Black religion is relevant. W. E.B. Du Bois said in 1903 that the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line. Fifty years later, in 1953 he wrote: “I still think today as yesterday that the color line is a great problem of this century. But today I see more clearly than yesterday that back of the problem of race and color, lies a greater problem which both obscures and implements it: and that is the fact that so many civilized persons are willing to live in comfort even if the price of this is poverty. ignorance and disease of the majority of their fellow-men: that to maintain this privilege men have waged war until today war tends to become universal and continuous. and the excuse for this war continues to be color and race.”

It is impossible to successfully deny the race issue still looms large in the American mind. While Blacks grow in self-knowledge, and while national magazines devote issues to the problem, racial “polarization” continues. The Sunday morning worship hour remains to a marked degree an hour of segregation. Affirmative action, racial profiles (Driving While Black), White police brutality—all bear evidence to the hatred existing between the races. Possibly one step toward reconciliation is to hear the voice of the God of all history. the Lord Jesus Christ, and see His hand moving without respect of faces or races in the midst of the children of disobedience. It is hoped this particular study will help achieve that end.

And we will continue more of this study in future episodes.


Our fourth topic for today is a continuation of our look at the earliest African states from the book, “From Slavery to Freedom” by John Hope Franklin. We have already looked at Ghana and Mali. Today, we are going to begin looking at Songhay.

The kingdom that was in a position to dispute the power of Mali by the 15th century was Songhay. The latter had experienced a long and checkered career as a kingdom. Beginning in the early eighth century at Gao, near the bend of the Niger, it had remained a small, relatively inconsequential state for many years. In fact, it fell under the powerful influence of Mali, and for a time its rulers were vassals of Mansa-Musa and his successors. Undaunted, the Songhay waited for the first opportunity to throw off the yoke of Mali and to assert their own sovereignty. This they had succeeded in doing by 1355, with Sonni Ali later taking Songhay, as Philip Curtin has said, “from a small riverain state to a great empire.”

When Sonni Ali began his rule of the Songhay, most of West Africa was ripe for conquest. Mali was declining, and the lesser states, though ambitious, had neither the leadership nor the resources necessary to achieve dominance. The hour of the Songhay had arrived. Sonni Ali conceived of a plan to conquer the entire Niger region by building a river navy that would seize control of both banks. By 1469 he had conquered the important town of Timbuktu and then proceeded to capture Jenne and other cities. Finally he attacked the kingdom of Mali, and with its conquest the Songhay kingdom was catapulted into a position of primacy in West Africa. Because of his lack of enthusiasm for the religion of Islam, there was considerable opposition to the rise of Sonni Ali, but he was undaunted. Consequently, his years were filled with fighting, but when he died In 1492 the kingdom of Songhay was firmly established as the dominant power of West Africa.


We will continue looking at this topic in our next episode.

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 church people said “being saved” was I now know is wrong according to the Bible. I wrote an article about it 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.” Then you can 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.

Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in over twenty-five foreign countries. He is the author of over forty books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts/podcasts, which include: The Prayer Motivator Devotional, The Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report, the Second Coming Watch Update and the Soul-Winning Motivator, among others. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Religion, a Master of Divinity degree, and a Master of Theology degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for over twenty-seven years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.

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