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100 Years Ago


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Black Church

From the very beginning, the hopes and aspirations of the slave community, wrenched from their homeland, centered around religious beliefs that sustained them in an inhospitable land. The black Christian church has, throughout the years, been a source of identity, values and dignity for black Americans. Its role as a social gathering place, in hostile locations, allowed it to function as a transmitter of information to those attempting to flee slavery.

Gospel songs, a gift from black Americans to America, were sung using words that indicated dates, times, places, and how escapes would occur on the Underground Railroad. Coded spiritual songs included; "Steal Away to Jesus," and "Wade in the Water Children." The song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" alluded to the North Star and the Big Dipper, while another song’s expressive words, "O Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound for the land of Canaan," tells of going to Canada, often referred to as the promised land. "Amazing Grace" became a favorite slave song when its writer, English slaver trader, John Newton found the Lord, created the song’s inspirational message, and committed his new life to the ministry.

Inspirational sermons would contain similar coded information, and both sermon and song gave hope, that, through their faith in God, liberty, equality, and all that free men enjoy would eventually be theirs. In 1787, when white officials pulled Richard Allen and Absalom Jones from their knees while praying in the white section of St. George’s Episcopal Church, it was clear there was a need for a black church that contained no such intolerance. Allen went on to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church, while others formed separate divisions of white denominations, such as the Methodists and Baptists.

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge

 

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