LISTEN: The Family, Religion, and Society in Africa Before the Slave Trade (The History of Black Americans and the Black Church #VA4 with Daniel Whyte III)

Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

Welcome to episode #4 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 Matthew 2:13-15 which reads: “And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Our BA and BC quote for today is from the late poet and author Maya Angelou. She said, “I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at commensurate speed.”

In this podcast, we are using as our texts: From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America/The Black Church Since Frazier by E. Franklin Frazier and C. Eric Lincoln, and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks.

Our topic for today is “the Family, Religion, and Society in Africa Before the Slave Trade” from John Hope Franklin’s book, From Slavery to Freedom. He writes:

As among other peoples, the clan, a group of families related by blood, was the basis of social organization in early Africa. The foundation of even economic and political life in Africa was the clan, with its inestimable influence over individual members. Although the eldest male was usually the head of the clan. relationships were traced through the mother rather than the father. Women were central figures in African society because they were, through marriage, the keys to appropriating land and, through their labor and that of the children they bore, the means to cultivating land. These realities were reflected in the widespread practice of polygamy, especially by men of wealth and power.

In communities where matrilineal practice was followed, children belonged solely to the family of the mother, whose eldest brother exercised the paternal rights of the family and assumed all responsibility for the children’s lives and actions. In clans that admitted only female relationships, the chief of the community was the brother of the mother. In communities that were, on the other hand, patrilineal, the chief was the real father. With either group, those forming the clan comprised all the living descendants of the same ancestor, female in the matriarchal system and male in the patriarchal system.

In general, a wife was not considered a member of her husband’s family. After marriage she continued to be a part of her own family. Since her family continued to manifest a real interest in her welfare, the bride’s husband was expected to guarantee good treatment and to pay her family an indemnity, a compensation for taking away a member of the family. This indemnity was not a purchase price, as has frequently been believed. The woman did not legally belong to her husband but to her own family. Naturally, the amount of the indemnity varied both with community practice and with the position of the bridegroom. Indeed, in some communities the tradition was maintained by a mere token payment out of respect for an ancient practice that had once had real significance in intertribal relationships.

Although polygamy existed in virtually every region, it was not universally practiced. The head of the family would defray the expenses involved in the first marriage of a male member of the family, but if the husband wanted to take a second wife, he would have to meet all the expenses himself. Religion played a part in determining the number of wives a man could have. Local religions did not limit the number. When the Muslims made inroads into Africa. they forbade adherents to take more than four wives. Christian missionaries insisted on monogamy altogether. The practice of polygamy does not appear to have produced many evils. As a matter of fact, the division of household duties in a polygamous family had the effect of reducing the duties and responsibilities of each wife, a highly desirable condition from the point of view of the wives if the husband was without servants or slaves.

The clan, the enlarged family, was composed of all families that claimed a common ancestor. The clan would develop in the same community or area, but as it became larger and as some families found more attractive opportunities elsewhere, the clan would separate, and one or more families would go to some other area to live. Unless the separation resulted from a violent quarrel or fight, the departing families regarded themselves as still being attached to the clan. Once the unity was broken by separation, however, the clan ties tended to disintegrate because cooperation in war, economic activities, and religious life was no longer practicable. Under the strain imposed by separation over the course of time, the traditions and practices of the parent clan tended to become obscure and unimportant. Consequently, little more than a common name bound members of the same clan together, and new environments and new linguistic influences had the effect of causing clan names to be changed or modified. In such instances, members of the same clan living in different places had no way of recognizing each other.

– – – – – – – – –

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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