Sacred Places Summer 2022 - Page 11

be conducted at a Black college or university and to be administered and led by Black scholars . 2 As an example of scholarly work , DuBois begins documenting the early development of the Black church in America . Tracing the development of the Black church from its inception in the United States to his contemporary moment , DuBois concluded that throughout the four hundred years of the transatlantic slave trade , Africans brought their religious beliefs and practices to the western world . The practice of African religion , according to DuBois , had its origins in “ nature worship .” This connection to nature in many West African cultures was spirit-led and did not require the presence of a church building .
The understanding of the existence of varied West African religious practices is central to a much broader goal developed by slaveholders , clergy , and other parties to support the institution of chattel slavery in America , which is the need to remove all elements of humanity from the person who is to be enslaved . Carried across the Atlantic were men and women , husbands and wives , fathers and mothers . These people carried their music , culture , religious beliefs , construction techniques , farming and hunting skills with them . They carried the memories of their families , the love for their homes , and a sense of responsibility to ensure that new generations would know who they were and what their lineage was . All of this was systematically stripped from them in order to shape workers with no agency or means to self-determination . This systematic eradication of humanity however was the subject of a debate in 1941 which questioned whether there was a lasting impact on this process , and if so , to what depth ?
The Herskovits-Frazier debate in the early twentieth century centered on the process of enslavement , from the horrors of the Middle Passage to the
adjustment process Africans endured upon arrival in America . Melville Herskovits was an American anthropologist noted for opening up the study of Africans and African Americans as a new field of academic research . E . Franklin Frazier was an African American sociologist whose research provided a framework of social structural issues relevant to the problems of the black community in the first half of the twentieth century . Herskovits argued that surviving evidence such as religion and song supported the persistence of African culture and religion in the New World . Frazier contended that no trace of culture and religion survived , concluding that Africans living in
America would eventually become completely “ Americanized ” while severing all ties with their homes in Africa .
The Reverend Dr . Henry Mitchell , a professor of history and Black church studies , has weighed in on Herskovits-Frazier debate from a contemporary vantage , writing about the influence of religious beliefs on the necessity of surviving the institution of slavery . He underscores that the most important mode of survival for Africans living in the Americas may very well have been the merging of belief systems — particularly , African traditional religious doctrines as closely related to and merged with the orthodox Christian faith . The two
Graphic illustration of the intersection of African American church buildings in the context of American history and American architecture .
2
W . E . B . DuBois , The Negro Church ( Eugene , Oregon : Cascade Books , 2011 ), x .
SACRED PLACES SUMMER 2022 11