Black History Reading Blog (3)

PowersBibleQuilt_1898
Harriet Powers, Bible Quilt. 1898. (Wikimedia Commons)

Continuing the discussion regarding Black History, finally, we reach chapter three of the book Creating Black Americans. “A Diasporic People,” reads the title of the chapter. This chapter was most interesting, because it explained many things pertaining to African Americans, and their adoption of a new culture among the United States.

 

First, the chapter speaking of religion: Why did African Americans become Christian? Did they keep a lot of their own religious traditions they adopted from Africa? Were they ultimately simulated into an American culture?

There were many reasons that African Americans chose to become Christians. Some of these reasons were strategic, while others for more spiritual reasons. Whatever reason, however, Africans were converting to Christianity and the following paragraphs will discuss why. One reason is that “Christianity offered an alternative to hopelessness” (49). There was a sense of hope that Christianity had to offer them to replace their feelings of hopelessness.

Another reason Africans chose to become Christians is the law protected them from being enslaved for life in early Virginia. This changed, however, over the course of the seventeenth century. Religion, Virginia later declared, meant different things to different “races” of people.

In addition to a sense of hope and the benefits of the law, “individual nonblack Christians could be quite kind” (49).

African Americans would also liken Christ to themselves. Instead of recreating images of Christ as a white man or the virgin Mary as a white woman, Africans would depict Christ as a black man and other Biblical characters in their art as black men and women as well. Although there was no specification on the race of Jesus Christ in the Biblical narrative, their white American counterparts in the United States took exception. They didn’t see this as black Americans expressing their Christianity, rather, they saw a blasphemous portrayal of the Christian trinity.

The book continues to discuss what it called “three different dimensions” of religion in African Americans. The first dimension of the black community is it’s syntracity. They didn’t only have one religious tradition. They adopted parts of the traditions around them, even overlapping a bit with Native American tradition. The preachers were untrained and unprofessional, so anyone could become on. There were all sorts of black preachers-including women preachers. “In the black folk tradition,” writes Painter, “women were as likely as men to serve as priestesses, herbalist, doctors, and conjurers” (51).

The second dimension was its multiracial parts. There was no one race that could be a part of the Black religious experience. There were many sects, like early Methodism, which could include different races of different people.

The third dimension discussed in the book was organized churches. Sprouting from the Second Great Awakening, black preachers and priests founded their own church organizations. These organizations began in Philadelphia. Painter includes Daniel Coker as on of the African Methodist founders. He was a son of a white indentured mother and an enslaved black father.

What I found most interesting in this chapter was its use of African art mixed with Christianized themes. Since African Americans probably spent most of their time with other African Americans and went to Church with others, they created art based off of the people around them with Christian themes. “Africans-American artists have long been drawn to Christian motifs,” writes Painter, “for the Bible, the foundation of Christian ideology, contains no racism” (54).

After the bit about religion, Painter discusses the “Language and Literature in the African American Diaspora” (56). It was typical for Africans transported to the American continent to learn a new language, often more than one. The book discusses autobiographers such as Olaudah Equiano and the poet Phillis Wheatley. There were able to, writing in European languages, reach an audience who were not familiar with African languages. The language of the black community, writes Painter, “captured the cultural dimension of Creole, or American, identity” (57-58).

Africans in America has had a long standing identity as a minority status. “Yet at every point and everywhere African Americans have found indispensable allies among the white majority” (63). I though that the latter quote was particularly interesting, Why? Because it shows, although many whites in power usually never reached a lending hand towards African minorities, that there were allies towards African Americans. Not every person of one group can be lumped into an abnormal controlled mind set, where absolutely everybody is burdened by racial attitudes.

A Personal Interest With the Text

Personally, I found the spiritual aspect of the chapter to be most interesting. I’ve listened to some beautiful works by Moses Hogan, a composer and arranger of spiritual music. I’ve always found it to be quite beautiful, and I believed that it captures the struggles of many African Americans either of today or in the past. When my high school choir performed Wade in the Water, I remember reflecting on the lyrics. To help my readers understand what I am talking about, I included the lyrics below in blue:

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water

Who’s that yonder dressed in red?
Wade in the water
Must be the children that Moses led
And God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water

Who’s that yonder dressed in white?
Wade in the water
Must be the children of the Israelites
God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water

Who’s that yonder dressed in blue?
Wade in the water
Must be the children that’s coming through
God’s gonna trouble the water, yeah

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
And God’s gonna trouble the water

You don’t believe I’ve been redeemed
Wade in the water
Just see the Holy Ghost looking for me
God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water

The lyrics relate to both the Old and New Testament. It reflects the Israelites escape from captivity from Egypt found in Exodus 14. The chorus discusses a healing (see John 5:4). This “disease,” discussed in the Gospel of John, is slavery, and after troubling the water, people were freed from it, or are continuing to be healed from it.

Three Memorable Quotes

“Yet at every point and everywhere African Americans have found indispensable allies among the white majority” (63).

“African-American artists have long been drawn to Christian motifs, for the Bible, the foundation of Christian ideology, contains to racism” (54).

“Writing in English allowed men and women like the autobiographer Olaudah Equiano and the poet Phillis Wheatley to join the discussion ranging across the Western world on the wisdom and morality of abolishing the Atlantic slave trade and slavery” (57).

I chose these quotes for various reasons. One uniting reason is that I found all of them particularly interesting (which, I  suppose, is a given. Otherwise it would have been silly to have chosen them).

The first quote reminds me that, fortunately, not everyone had racist attitudes towards African Americans. Of course, it would have been much better if nobody had racist attitudes, but there were at least some who were not burdened by racial thoughts.

I chose the second listed quotation because it reminded me of one of the points mentioned above regarding hope. Africans withdrew from Christianity a sense of hope in a world full of hopelessness. I imagine that these ideas of hope granted them a better attitude towards life and that some were better able to deal with racial issues.

Communication is always useful when appealing to someone of a different ethnic back ground. When I was young and I heard my father, who speaks Spanish, speak with his employees, I used poke fun with my sister at how they sounded. I guess I though that because I cannot understand someone, that they must be stupid, or something, and that they could not be very useful in the world. Similarly, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that that’s exactly how most Americans saw Africans who did not know English.

(1,353 words)

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