By Rev. Willie A. Douglas, Civil Rights & Social Justice Advocate
From the establishment of the first Black church in America, throughout slavery and beyond, the church has been the foundation of the Black community. During the horrific days of slavery, it provided relief and nourishment for the soul with its promise of a better life after death.
The church gave the slave dignity and assured him that he was equal in the eyes of God, that he was loved and valued no matter how difficult his burden became or unbearable his suffering was. It was this religious faith that sustained the slave and enabled him to endure his bondage.
If slave owners had ventured into a Black church, his strong defense of slavery would no doubt have been weakened. He would have seen the people he considered inferior and sub-human without the defensive masks they wore in the fields.
In their churches, enslaved men and woman displayed a dignity that survived the slave owner’s dehumanizing oppression.
The church was more than a safe house. It served as a launching pad for Black leadership and was involved early on in working for liberation. Many free Blacks in northern churches participated in the Underground Railroad, raised money for freedmen after the Civil War, and helped to keep the Black community intact.
It is not surprising the Black church has always played a pivotal role in keeping alive the meaning of traditional holidays reflecting African Americans. Religion has always been at the root of the observance of most holidays, ironic considering it is a holiday born out of an institution so far removed from Christian ideals.
The Black church was, and still is, the single most important institution in the Black community. It permitted self-expression and supported creativity at a time when it could have meant death.
An example is found in the spirituals, gospel and other forms of music that helped Blacks express and endure their sojourn in America. Blacks were able to use their churches to hone organization and leadership skills useful in the economic, social and political development of their community.
For Afro-American people, the Black church is considered our mother and father, schoolmaster, our base, and our hub – the grounding for our spiritual development, our being, and that of the community.
The Black Church provided a haven from the daily oppression slaves faced, but after freedom it was also the center of education and social activities.
Because the pulpit in the Black church is the only true “free” pulpit in America, Black people expect judgment to begin at the house of the Lord.