In the 1830s and 1840s, Southern churchmen undertook an active campaign to persuade plantation owners that slaves must be brought into to the Christian fold.Because plantations were located far from churches, this meant that the church had to be carried to the plantation.Here they provided the hard manual labor that supported the South's biggest crops: cotton and tobacco.In the South, Anglican ministers sponsored by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, founded in England, made earnest attempts to teach Christianity by rote memorization; the approach had little appeal.Some white owners allowed the enslaved to worship in white churches, where they were segregated in the back of the building or in the balconies.Occasionally persons of African descent might hear a special sermon from white preachers, but these sermons tended to stress obedience and duty, and the message of the apostle Paul: "Slaves, obey your masters." Both Methodists and Baptists made active efforts to convert enslaved Africans to Christianity; the Methodists also licensed black men to preach.In time, a Second and a Third African Church were formed, also led by black pastors.
Functioning as quasi-religious organizations, these societies often gave rise to independent black churches.
Eventually Obama broke with Wright and left Trinity, but his speech illuminated the role of the black church in the African American experience.
Standing apart from the dominant white society, yet engaged in a continuing dialogue with it, the church evolved with countless acts of faith and resistance, piety and protest. In its origins, the phrase was largely an academic category.
In 1787, for example, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones organized the Free African Society of Philadelphia, which later evolved into two congregations: the Bethel Church, the mother church of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination, and St.
Thomas Episcopal Church, which remained affiliated with a white Episcopal denomination. Historian Mary Sawyer notes that by 1810, there were 15 African churches representing four denominations in 10 cities from South Carolina to Massachusetts.