Sunday, June 21, 2015

JMS: Historical Significance of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Longtime American Creation reader and commenter JMS has written the following guest post:
In light of the murderous anti-black hatred perpetrated at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, it is important to acknowledge the vital role of the AME Church in the religious founding of the United States of America, and its heritage as a bastion of human rights.
Two of the most revolutionary outcomes during the thirty years following the American Revolution were: 1) the disestablishment of state churches (except in MA, CT and NH), facilitating the “free exercise” of religion; and 2) the much too gradual abolition of slavery in all the states north of MD, creating new free black communities (e.g., “Philadelphia’s free black population grew from about 240 in 1780 to 1,849 in 1790, over 6,000 in 1800, and 8,942 by 1810; an increase from 2.1% of the total population in 1780 to 10% by 1810”). The result was unprecedented religious pluralism, marred by embedded racism.
As noted here and here, “the independent black churches were the most important of the free blacks’ creations, destined to be a center of African American community life to this day. The churches fostered a communal Christianity of freedom, nurtured a variety of self-improvement organizations and promoted racial pride—they were ’African’ churches.”  Whenever we talk about “founders,” we should acknowledge Richard Allen (1760–1831) and Absalom Jones (1746–1818) “as founding fathers of the free black community of Philadelphia. Both were born slaves who worked to purchase their freedom.” In 1816, Allen led the formation of the first organized black denomination in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.) Church.
As Yolanda Pierce, an associate professor of African American Religion at Princeton Theological Seminary, points out, “The African American church, itself born out of a protest movement, is a symbol to African American community and culture.” It is crucial to remember that as Allen noted in his  autobiography, these churches “bore much persecution”  and “spiritual despotism” from those individuals and groups (Including white churches) that sought to deny the free exercise of religion to African Americans.
Note: In fn 1 of the Allen Autobiography segment, Dr. Benjamin Rush is correctly labeled as an abolitionist, but is misidentified as a Quaker instead of a Universalist.
JMS – 6/20/2015


Tom Van Dyke said...

Good stuff, JMS. Northerners fancy that racism was a slave state thing, but

"[R]ace prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known." --Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America

In some Northern states, after emancipation, blacks were legally allowed to vote, marry whites, file lawsuits, or sit on juries. In most, they were not. But even where the right was extended by law, often the white majority did not allow it to happen. In Massachusetts in 1795, despite the absence of any law prohibiting on black voting, Judge James Winthrop and Thomas Pemberton wrote that Negroes could neither elect nor be elected to office in that state.[1] De Tocqueville, in Philadelphia in 1831, asked why, since black men had the right to vote there, none ever dared do so. The answer came back: The law with us is nothing if it is not supported by public opinion. When Ohio's prohibition against blacks testifying in legal cases involving white people was lifted in 1849, observers acknowledged that, at least in the southern part of the state, where most of the blacks lived, social prejudice would keep the ban in practical effect.

JMS said...

Thanks Tom. I agree with you: the decline of slavery in the post-Revolutionary North did not necessarily signal a decline in racism. The slavenorth website you cited is an excellent online resource.