Welcome to episode #8 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 John 8:36 which reads: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
Our History of Black Americans and the Black Church quote for today is from Arthur Ashe, the World No. 1 tennis player and the first black man to be selected for the U.S. Davis Cup tennis team. He said, “If I were to say, ‘God, why me?’ about the bad things, then I should have said, ‘God, why me?’ about the good things that happened in my life.”
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 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 great detail in upcoming episodes
THE SECOND GREAT AWAKENING AND “HUSH HARBORS”
In the late 18th and early 19th century, thousands of Americans, black and white, enslaved and free, were swept up in the revival known as the Second Great Awakening. In the South, the religious fervor of evangelical Christianity resonated easily with the emotive religious traditions brought from West Africa. Forging a unique synthesis, slaves gathered in “hush harbors” — woods, gullies, ravines, thickets and swamps — for heartfelt worship which stressed deliverance from the toil and troubles of the present world, and salvation in the heavenly life to come.
Yet most of the enslaved lay outside the institutional church. In the 1830s and 1840s, Southern churchmen undertook an active campaign to persuade plantation owners that slaves must be brought into the Christian fold. Because plantations were located far from churches, this meant that the church had to be carried to the plantation. Aided by denominational missionary societies and associations, plantation missions became popular institutions. But missionaries recognized that Christianity would not appeal to all enslaved blacks. Novice missionaries were warned: “He who carries the Gospel to them …discovers deism, skepticism, universalism…all the strong objections against the truth of God; objections which he may perhaps have considered peculiar only to the cultivated minds…of critics and philosophers!”
The Methodists were the most active among missionary societies, but Baptists also had strong appeal. The Baptists’ insistence that each congregation should have its own autonomy meant that blacks could exercise more control over their religious affairs. Yet the independence of black churches was curbed by law and by the white Southern response to slave uprisings and abolition.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the black church found its political and prophetic voice in the cause of abolition. Black ministers took to their pulpits to speak out against slavery and warned that any nation that condoned slavery would suffer divine punishment. Former slave and Methodist convert Frederick Douglass challenged Christians to confront an institution that violated the central tenets of the Christian faith, including the principle of equality before God. In 1829, African American abolitionist David Walker issued his famous tract, “Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World,” urging slaves to resort to violence, if necessary. He, too, warned of divine punishment. He said, “God rules in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth… His ears are continually open to the tears and groans of His oppressed people…”
In the North, black ministers and members of the African American community joined white abolitionists in organizing the Underground Railroad, an informal network that helped persons escaping bondage to make their way to freedom. Prominent among these activists was Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in 1849 and made her way to Philadelphia. Having secured her freedom, Tubman put herself in jeopardy by making repeated return trips to the South to assist others. Her courage and determination earned her the affectionate nickname of “Moses.”
We will continue this brief historical overview of the black church in our next podcast.
Our second topic for today is “The First West African States: Mali (Part 2)” from John Hope Franklin’s book, From Slavery to Freedom. He writes:
The best information that the period affords on the level of attainment of these early West African comes from the accounts of royal pilgrimages to Mecca. The kings, newly converted to the religion, were as ardent and pious as any Arabs of their day. As good Muslims, they looked forward to making the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca. Such a pilgrimage, moreover, was an excellent opportunity to display the wealth of the kingdom and to attract trade. The historic pilgrimage of Man-sa-Musa in 1324 exceeded all visits to Mecca by previous royal personages from the West. Cairo’s El O-ma-ni said that the entourage was composed of thousands of people, a large portion of which constituted a military escort. Gifts were lavished on the populace, and mosques were built where they were needed. As the camels approached Mecca, their burden was considerably lighter than it had been when they departed for the East.
Since any such pilgrimage was a display of wealth and power as well as a holy journey, there was no need to proceed directly to and from Mecca. Man-sa-Musa first visited various parts of his kingdom to show his subjects and vassals his tremendous wealth and to demonstrate his benevolence. He then proceeded to Tu-at, in the land of the Berbers, and after making a deep impression there, he crossed the desert, visited Cairo, and finally went to the holy places of Mecca and Me-di-na. He returned by way of Ghadames [GA-DA-MEES], in Tripoli, where he received many honors and from which point he was accompanied to his kingdom by El-Mo-mar, a descendant of the founder of the dynasty of the Al-mo-hads. A more significant visitor to return with Man-sa-Musa was Ibrahim Es Sa-he-li, a distinguished Arabian poet and architect from a Granada family, whom Man-sa-Musa engaged to supervise the building of elaborate mosques at Timbuktu, Jenne [JEN], Gao, and elsewhere. These structures added further splendor to the already well-developed kingdom of Mali.
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, gospellightsociety.com. 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 www.danielwhyte3.com. Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.