Enslaved African Americans held meetings in secluded locations , such as woods , gullies , ravines and thickets , aptly called “ hush ” or “ brush harbors .” Christopher S . Hunter traditions offer remarkable parallels , such as the omnipotence , justice , omniscience , and providence of God . None of these attributes of God had to be learned first in slavery . And these crossover African-Christian beliefs profoundly endured in America because they served so well to support African American psychic survival under oppression . 3 Mitchell suggests that , motivated by survival , Africans brought to America found ways to blend , or syncretize , their religious beliefs with Christianity .
The Black Church in Antebellum and Post-Civil War America
By the eve of the American Civil War , the majority of slaves were American-born , and the cultural and linguistic barriers which had impeded the evangelization of earlier generations of African-born slaves had generally eroded . 4 Missionaries had little success with African-born slaves because many of them never learned English well enough to understand instructions in Christianity . The enslaved Africans in America , who understood the language and the customs of whites , made better candidates for conversion . 5 The religious act of survival by the enslaved born in America became an act of defiance against the preaching of white southern ministers . While trying to restrain the cruelty of masters , white ministers simultaneously hoped their evangelization would produce submissive slaves . Many Blacks testified that the white ministers , dedicated to preserving slavery , tried to promote good behavior , contentment , industry , and humility in the quarters and discouraged stealing , lying , and rebelliousness . 6
The enslaved , in turn , developed their own understanding of Christianity , which differed drastically from that of slave owners and their chosen preachers . While white ministers emphasized memorization of the Lord ’ s Prayer , the Ten Commandments , and various passages that highlighted obedience and submissiveness , for enslaved persons their love for church and religious services frequently derived from
Henry H . Mitchell , Black Church Beginnings : The Long-Hidden Realities of the First Years ( Grand Rapids , Michigan : Wm . B . Eerdmans Publishing Company , 2004 ), 16 .
Albert J . Raboteau , Slave Religion : The ‘ Invisible Institution ’ in the Antebellum South ( New York : Oxford University Press , 2004 ), 212 .
Noel Leo Erskine , Plantation Church : How African American Religion was Born in Caribbean Slavery ( New York : Oxford University Press , 2014 ), 118 .
Ibid ., 115 .
12 SACRED PLACES • SUMMER 2022