Evangelical Baptist and Methodist preachers traveled throughout the South in the Great Awakening of the late 18th century. They appealed directly to slaves, and a few thousand slaves converted. Blacks found opportunities to have active roles in new congregations, especially in the Baptist Church, where slaves were appointed as leaders and preachers.
They were excluded from such roles in the Anglican or Episcopal Church. As they listened to readings, slaves developed their own interpretations of the Scriptures and found inspiration in stories of deliverance, such as the Exodus out of Egypt. Nat Turner , a slave and Baptist preacher, was inspired to armed rebellion, in an uprising that killed about 50 white men, women, and children in Virginia. Both free blacks and the more numerous slaves participated in the earliest black Baptist congregations founded near Petersburg, Virginia , Savannah, Georgia and Lexington, Kentucky , before The congregation numbered about by the time of Durrett's death in Following slave revolts in the early 19th century, including Nat Turner's Rebellion in , Virginia passed a law requiring black congregations to meet only in the presence of a white minister.
Other states similarly restricted exclusively black churches, or the assembly of blacks in large groups unsupervised by whites. Nevertheless, the black Baptist congregations in the cities grew rapidly and their members numbered several hundred each before the Civil War.
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See next section. While mostly led by free blacks, most of their members were slaves. In plantation areas, slaves organized underground churches and hidden religious meetings, the "invisible church", where slaves were free to mix evangelical Christianity with African beliefs and African rhythms. With the time, many incorporated Wesleyan Methodist hymns, gospel songs, and spirituals. The spirituals gave the church members a secret way to communicate and, in some cases, to plan rebellion.
Slaves also learned about Christianity by attending services led by a white preacher or supervised by a white person. Slaveholders often held prayer meetings at their plantations. In the South until the Great Awakening, most slaveholders were Anglican if they practiced any Christianity.
Although in the early years of the first Great Awakening, Methodist and Baptist preachers argued for manumission of slaves and abolition, by the early decades of the 19th century, they often had found ways to support the institution. In settings where whites supervised worship and prayer, they used Bible stories that reinforced people's keeping to their places in society, urging slaves to be loyal and to obey their masters. In the 19th century, Methodist and Baptist chapels were founded among many of the smaller communities and common planters. Sometimes slaves established their own Sabbath schools to talk about the Scriptures.
Free Blacks in both northern and southern cities formed their own congregations and churches before the end of the 18th century.
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They organized independent black congregations and churches  to practice religion apart from white oversight. In in Philadelphia, the black church was born out of protest and revolutionary reaction to racism. Resenting being relegated to a segregated gallery at St. It was at first non-denominational and provided mutual aid to the free black community. Over time, Jones began to lead Episcopal services there.
He led most of its members to create the African Church, in the Episcopal tradition. Butler , DuBois In the fall of , several black leaders attending services at St. George's Methodist Church and had recently helped to expand the church. The black churchgoers were told to sit upstairs in the new gallery. When they mistakenly sat in an area not designated for blacks, they were forcibly removed from the seats they had helped build.
According to Allen, " While he and Jones led different denominations, they continued to work closely together and with the black community in Philadelphia In Jones was the first black priest ordained in the Episcopal Church. Richard Allen, a Methodist preacher, wanted to continue with the Methodist tradition. By July 29, , they also had a building ready for their worship. The church adopted the slogan: "To Seek for Ourselves. Allen and the AME Church were active in antislavery campaigns, fought racism in the North, and promoted education, starting schools for black children.
Finding that other black congregations in the region were also seeking independence from white control, in Allen organized a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church , the first fully independent black denomination.
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He was elected its first bishop in While he and Jones led different denominations, they continued to work closely together and with the black community in Philadelphia. Soon thereafter, Allen.
Jones, and others began soliciting funds, again with the help of Rush. Their appeals met with resistance from white church leaders, many of whom had been supportive of the black community, but disapproved of a separate black church. Petersburg, Virginia had two of the oldest black congregations in the country, both organized before as a result of the Great Awakening : First Baptist Church and Gillfield Baptist Church Each congregation moved from rural areas into Petersburg into their own buildings in the early 19th century.
Their two black Baptist congregations were the first of that denomination in the city and they grew rapidly. A former slave, he had been converted by ordained Baptist minister Matthew Moore. His early preaching was encouraged by his master, Henry Sharp. Liele had been preaching to slaves on plantations, but made his way to Savannah, where he organized a congregation. By the church had members, and by it had grown to more than members. Soon it generated two new black congregations in the city.
Before , First African Baptist in Lexington, Kentucky grew to 1, members, making it the largest congregation in that state. This was under its second pastor, Rev. London Ferrill, a free black,  and occurred as Lexington was expanding rapidly as a city. First African Baptist was admitted to the Elkhorn Baptist Association in , where it came somewhat under oversight of white congregations.
This church is the oldest black Catholic parish in the United States. After emancipation , Northern churches founded by free blacks, as well as those of predominantly white denominations, sent missions to the South to minister to newly freed slaves, including to teach them to read and write. He organized committees, associations and teachers to reach freedmen throughout the countryside.
Their missioners and preachers had brought more than , new adherents into the church. While it had a northern base, the church was heavily influenced by this growth in the South and incorporation of many members who had different practices and traditions. These two independent black denominations attracted the most new members in the South.
They took their mostly black congregations with them. They adopted the Methodist Doctrine and elected their first two bishops, William H. Miles of Kentucky and Richard H. Vanderhorst of South Carolina. At the same time, black Baptist churches, well-established before the Civil War, continued to grow and add new congregations.
With the rapid growth of black Baptist churches in the South , in church officials organized a new Baptist association, the National Baptist Convention. This was the unification of three national black conventions, organized in and the s. It brought together the areas of mission, education and overall cooperation. Despite founding of new black conventions in the early and later 20th century, this is still the largest black religious organization in the United States.
The postwar years were marked by a separatist impulse as blacks exercised the right to move and gather beyond white supervision or control.
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They developed black churches, benevolent societies, fraternal orders and fire companies. Black churches were the focal points of black communities, and their members' quickly seceding from white churches demonstrated their desire to manage their own affairs independently of white supervision.
It also showed the prior strength of the "invisible church" hidden from white eyes. Black preachers provided leadership, encouraged education and economic growth, and were often the primary link between the black and white communities. There grew to be a tension between black leaders from the North and people in the South who wanted to run their churches and worship in their own way.
Since the male hierarchy denied them opportunities for ordination , middle-class women in the black church asserted themselves in other ways: they organized missionary societies to address social issues. These societies provided job training and reading education , worked for better living conditions, raised money for African missions, wrote religious periodicals, and promoted Victorian ideals of womanhood, respectability, and racial uplift.
Black churches held a leadership role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Their history as a centers of strength for the black community made them natural leaders in this moral struggle. In addition they had often served as links between the black and white worlds. Notable minister-activists of the s and s included Martin Luther King Jr. The black church continues to be a source of support for members of the African-American community.
When compared to American churches as a whole, black churches tend to focus more on social issues such as poverty , gang violence , drug use , prison ministries and racism. A study found that black Christians were more likely to have heard about health care reform from their pastors than were white Christians.
Most surveys indicate that while blacks tend to vote Democratic in elections, members of traditionally African-American churches are generally more socially conservative than white Protestants as a whole. For example, the African Methodist Episcopal Church prohibits its ministers from officiating same-sex weddings, but it does not have a clear policy on ordination. Some members of the Black clergy have not accepted the same-sex marital ideology.
The organization insists that a real union is between a man and a woman. They also believe that the law prohibiting gay marriage should have been upheld. One formalization of theology based on themes of black liberation is the Black theology movement. Its origins can be traced to July 31, , when an ad hoc group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen NCNC , bought a full-page ad in The New York Times to publish their "Black Power Statement", which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible for inspiration.
Black liberation theology was first systematized by James Cone and Dwight Hopkins. They are considered the leading theologians of this system of belief, although now there are many scholars who have contributed a great deal to the field. In , Cone published the seminal work that laid the basis for black liberation theology, Black Theology and Black Power. In the book, Cone asserted that not only was black power not alien to the Gospel, it was, in fact, the Gospel message for all of 20th century America.
In , approximately one quarter of African-American churches followed a liberation theology. Wright had built Trinity into a successful megachurch following the theology developed by Cone, who has said that he would "point to [Trinity] first" as an example of a church's embodying his message. Although black urban neighborhoods in cities that have deindustrialized may have suffered from civic disinvestment ,  with lower quality schools, less effective policing  and fire protection, there are institutions that help to improve the physical and social capital of black neighborhoods.
In black neighborhoods the churches may be important sources of social cohesion. Churches may also do work to improve the physical infrastructure of the neighborhood. Churches in Harlem have undertaken real estate ventures and renovated burnt-out and abandoned brownstones to create new housing for residents. Like many Christians, African-American Christians sometimes participate in or attend a Christmas play. Black Nativity by Langston Hughes is a re-telling of the classic Nativity story with gospel music.
Productions can be found at black theaters and churches all over the country. Throughout U. In the late 18th century, former slave Richard Allen , a Methodist preacher, was an influential deacon and elder at the integrated and affluent St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
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When the survey was conducted in , Millennials included those born between and Black Millennials are more religious than other Millennials. Blacks more likely than others in U. Black Americans are more likely than overall public to be Christian, Protestant. Black men are less religious than black women, but more religious than white women and men.
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