Religion: A Documentary History Project
Working Draft 1986
African-American Religious History, 1919–1939:
Bibliographic Essay and Resource Guide
Randall K. Burkett and David W. Wills
Note: This essay was drafted in the early and mid-1980s by Randall K. Burkett (then the associate director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, now curator of African-American Collections, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University) and David W. Wills (Winthrop H. Smith ’16 Professor of American History and American Studies [Religion and Black Studies] at Amherst College and general editor of African American Religion: A Documentary History Project). It was never completed and never published, but was circulated in manuscript form among interested scholars and has been used by them. It is cited, for example, in Milton C. Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), though as an anomalous work it does not appear in the bibliography. The version presented here is essentially identical with the last draft, circulated as “Working Draft 1986.” A few incomplete bibliographical citations have been completed, and some typographical errors and irregularities of form corrected. Otherwise, it is unchanged. No attempt has been made to complete or update the essay in light of changes in the field or work published in the past two decades. The authors welcome suggestions from readers concerning more recent works that might be added to this essay (please address them to <email@example.com> and, if sufficient suggestions are received and other responsibilities allow, will consider either updating the essay or making available a supplementary essay. Copyright © 2006 by the authors and the Trustees of Amherst College. All rights reserved.
Historians writing of American religion in the aftermath of World War I have often stressed the declining role of historic Protestantism and the increased importance of other religious movements and traditions. Winthrop Hudson, Religion in America, 3d. ed. (New York: Scribners, 1981), has suggested that the high tide of Protestant influence in the nineteenth-century United States was followed after the mid-1920s by a clear “ebb tide” (360)—the result of both internal division and disarray and the rising importance of Jews, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, “the Negro churches,” and “disaffected Protestants.” In a similar vein, Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1972) has described twentieth-century American religious history as displaying “the crumbling of the Protestant Establishment and the emergence of a more genuine pluralism” (875). Although for Ahlstrom this Protestant decline is not fully evident until the “decisive decade” of the 1960s, it was greatly advanced by the 20s, “a time of crisis for both the Protestant Establishment and the historic evangelicalism which underlay it . . . [,] the critical epoch when the Puritan heritage lost its hold on the leaders of public life, and when the mainstream denominations grew increasingly out of touch with the classic Protestant witness” (899). And Ahlstrom too treats “Black Religion in the Twentieth Century” under the general heading “Toward Post-Puritan America.”
This identification of black religion as a rising force in an increasingly pluralistic America leads neither Hudson nor Ahlstrom, however, to see in the interwar history of the mainline black denominations signs of increasing vitality. Quite the contrary is the case. Although Hudson observes that by the 1930s a larger percentage of the black than the white population were church members, his account emphasizes schisms within the major black denominations, the rise of store-front churches and the new holiness and pentecostal denominations, and the development of “exotic cults in the urban environment” (355)—such as the “bizarre” Father Divine Peace Mission Movement and the Nation of Islam. Though noting the “rich evangelical resources” (1076) that sustained black clergy participation and influence in the civil rights movement, Ahlstrom’s discussion stresses the post World War I impact of “secularization and social differentiation” (1057–58) in transforming black religious life and making it increasingly difficult for the historic black denominations to perform their previous “cultural function” of holding “the Afro-American heritage together and preserv[ing] black solidarity” (1075). From these accounts, it would appear that the major black denominations in the 1920s and 30s were more co-victims in the demise of the Protestant Establishment than beneficiaries of any rising black influence in a religiously pluralistic America.
In advancing this notion of what might be called the decline of the black religious establishment, Hudson and Ahlstrom have broken no new ground. This view is well-established in the main general accounts of African-American religious history during the interwar years—accounts on which they and other surveyors of American religious history have generally relied. In spite of deep ideological differences in their general perspectives on African-American life, the most influential interpreters of modern black religious history have agreed about the diminished influence of the mainline black churches. Carter G. Woodson, whose History of the Negro Church, 2d. ed. (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1945), remains the most complete institutional history of the black churches, declared in the mid-forties that “the church is still the main concern of the large majority of the civilized element, but it has not the prestige of former days” (300). In his classic sociological study, The Negro Church in America (New York: Schocken, 1964), E. Franklin Frazier spoke of the “inadequacy . . . of the institutional denominations” (53) in confronting the massive social upheaval in black life occasioned by the “Great Migration” of blacks from the rural south to the cities of the north and west. The increasing “secularization” of the mainline black churches, he argued, restricted their appeal to the upper and middle strata of the community, among whom, however, the church less and less served as the central focal point of their lives. Meanwhile the black masses increasingly turned to the storefront churches or the burgeoning range of urban cults. In the most recent general survey of African-American religious history, Gayraud S. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of Afro-American People, 2d. ed., rev. and enlarged (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1983), has argued that the mainline black churches, by becoming increasingly oriented to white bourgeois values, lost their cultural and political leadership to secular intellectuals and, more importantly, forfeited their ability to express the radical black piety of the transplanted rural southern folk. “The church was no longer a primarily lower-class institution arbitrating the terms of black existence,” Wilmore declares: “It was becoming thoroughly middle-class and marginated” (145). The eventual result was the “deradicalization of the black church” and the “dechristianization of black radicalism.”
We are aware that a scholarly consensus so widely held is unlikely to be entirely in error. We ourselves are inclined to agree, moreover, that the interwar period was a time of critically important change in African-American religion—change that was significantly related to the social transformation connected with the Great Migration and importantly evidenced by the flourishing of both a more secular black elite and the so-called “sects and cults.” But it seems to us that the nature and extent of this religious change, particularly as it affected the mainline black denominations, is something that requires far more specification and documentation than it has so far received. To a remarkable extent, as will appear more fully below, the reigning generalizations that have dominated the literature on this period are based primarily on a series of sociological studies undertaken in the nineteen twenties and (especially) thirties. These studies are very much rooted in their own time—both in the sense of their often displaying definite evaluative stances toward the contemporary black churches and in their reflecting a certain stage in the development of American social scientific theory about religion. Both a conviction that the black churches should restrain their “otherworldly” expressivity and devote themselves more energetically to instrumental “this-worldly” reform and a reliance on a very simple model of the secularizing effect of urbanization would appear to have played central roles in shaping what became the scholarly orthodoxy about black religious life during these years. In our view, neither these presuppositions nor the work that flowed from them is beyond challenge. We therefore believe it is time—long past time—for the received interpretation of black religion in the interwar years to be subjected to a thorough reconsideration.
We also believe that at the center of any such reconsideration must lie a careful reassessment of the history during these years of the mainline black denominations, whose decline, we suspect, has often been greatly exaggerated. This will require, among other things, both better use of the studies we already have and many additional studies of these churches’ organizational life and the careers of their leaders. Given the general drift of historical scholarship in America in the past two decades, it may seem terribly old-fashioned to recommend this kind of institutional and biographical history. But in our view this is what is most lacking in this particular field. Besides, given the fact that most black religious adherents did not desert to the new “sects and cults” but remained attached, as in the pre-war period, to the older black Christian churches, one can scarcely justify the existing literature’s preoccupation with the newer groups on the basis of a concern for the history of ordinary people. In any case, something is clearly wrong when a survey account such as Ahlstrom’s refers to Daddy Grace, Father Divine, F. S. Cherry, Noble Drew Ali, Wallace Fard, and Elijah Muhammad but mentions no black Baptist or Methodist leader between World War I and the emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr., except, in passing, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. This might be compared to a survey of early nineteenth-century Protestantism that discussed in some detail the Shakers, Oneida Perfectionists, Mormons, and Millerites but made no mention of the leaders of the main evangelical denominations.
It also seems clear to us that any adequate reconsideration of black religious history during these years must involve a fresh appraisal of developments in the south. If the existing literature imperfectly reflects the actual institutional distribution of black religious life, it also misrepresents its geographical location. As important as the migration was, it is to be remembered that as late as 1940, 77% of the nation’s black population still lived in the south. Of course, the southern black was also increasingly an urban black and therefore the study of southern black religion during these years must carefully attend to its history in the cities. Indeed, if we are to draw a clearer picture of the still obscure lines between the southern black church of the interwar period and the church that marched behind Martin Luther King, Jr., it may be precisely a better understanding of these urban developments that we most badly need.
Also clearly necessary for any adequate interpretation of black religious life during this period is a careful reappraisal of the role of women. Black women were as numerically preponderant in most black religious organizations as white women were in predominately white groups—even more so, apparently. Yet the renewal of the study of American women’s place in our religious history has so far produced only a small yield of fresh research on African-American women of the interwar years. Clearly, we can not achieve a satisfactory understanding of the period until this situation is corrected.
Finally, in this list of the most general considerations that must orient a reassessment of black religious life during this period, we would place a concern to reconceptualize the place of black religion in American religion as a whole. As we noted at the outset, surveys of American religion seem typically to present a rather equivocal (if not confused) account of these years, seeing black religion as a beneficiary of increased pluralism yet also charting the decline of the mainline black churches. We are as skeptical about the first part of this picture as we are of the second. If a post-Protestant America was working its way in these years toward a new pluralism, it was the pluralism of “Protestant-Catholic-Jew” in which blacks were at the very least not explicitly included, either within these three groupings or alongside them. Since the question of whether and how to include blacks has always been the critical test for the successive formulations of the meaning of toleration and pluralism that American religious life has produced, its treatment during these years—by whites and blacks alike—deserves a far more central place in our general interpretations of religion in the interwar period than it has so far received.
What follows is intended both to encourage and facilitate the kind of thoroughgoing reappraisal of this period that we think is called for. Our discussion falls into two main sections. In the first, we present a general introduction to the currently available literature, including a further discussion of those areas most in need of additional study. In the second section, we provide a guide to the resources available for further research in this field. It is hoped that this essay will not only spark additional scholarly interest in—and fresh interpretations of—the important period directly of concern here, but also that it will be suggestive of the rich range and depth of resources available for other periods in African-American religious history.
I. An Introduction to the Literature
The only general bibliographical essay dealing with the period is the section “The Black Church in an Era of Urbanization,” pp. 205–9 of James M. McPherson et al., Blacks in America: Bibliographical Essays (Garden City, N. J.: Doubleday, 1971). Nelson R. Burr has a brief section on “The City Church and Its Problems,” pp. 370–72 of his A Critical Bibliography of Religion in America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961) which should also be consulted. Certainly the most comprehensive guide to black church studies is Ethel L. Williams and Clifton F. Brown, The Howard University Bibliography of African and Afro-American Religious Studies, with Locations in American Libraries (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1977). Also to be consulted is Marilyn Richardson, Black Women and Religion: A Bibliography (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980).
Surveys, General Interpretations, Collections
General historical surveys of the period may be found in the standard works: chs. 12–16 of Carter G. Woodson, History of the Negro Church, 2d. ed. (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1945; reprint, 1972), and ch. 4 of E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Church in America. To these should be added ch. 6 of Gayraud S. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of Afro-American People. Seth M. Scheiner, “The Negro Church and the Northern City, 1890–1930,” in William G. Shade and Roy C. Herrenkohl, eds., Seven on Black: Reflections on the Negro Experience in America (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969), provides a synoptic account expressing the conventional view of the black churches’ response to urbanization. More idiosyncratic is Joseph R. Washington, Jr., Black Religion: The Negro and Christianity in the United States (Boston: Beacon, 1964). Though it touches only cursorily on the interwar period and has been much criticized by later writers, its contention that after the 1920s the black churches lost touch with the black religion of “racial unity for freedom and justice,” submitted too completely to the historic patterns of white evangelicalism, and became preoccupied with a self-serving institutionalism has remained quietly influential, especially in shaping Wilmore’s account.
Benjamin E. Mays, The Negro’s God as Reflected in His Literature (Boston: Chapman & Grimes,1938), chs. 5–9, offers a general survey and interpretation of black religious thought during this period. Mays’ concern is more with black “high culture” generally than with theology in the narrower sense, as is true of S. P. Fullinwider in his suggestive if often unpersuasive Mind and Mood of Black America (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey, 1969). It is Fullinwider’s thesis that in the 1930s an old consensus in black thought, centered on “the image of the Christ-like Negro” and “the ideology of racial mission” dissolved and “the sociological imagination reigned supreme among the emerging race leaders” (172). Also treating religion from the standpoint of a more general concern for “myth and symbol” in black life is Wilson Jeremiah Moses’s provocative and important Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1982).
Two volumes sponsored by the Institute of Social and Religious Research were published on the basis of research undertaken in this period. William A. Daniel, The Education of Negro Ministers (New York: George H. Doran, 1925; reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969) was based upon site visits to “all Negro schools in the United States that advertised theological courses for 1923–24.” An appendix provides brief histories of fifty-two departments and schools of theology. Benjamin Mays and Joseph Nicholson, The Negro’s Church (New York: Institute of Social and Religious Research, 1933; reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969) was an endeavor to secure an overview of the life of the black church by surveying 609 urban and 185 rural churches. Information on clergy, membership, buildings, program, worship, and financing is provided. This volume has perhaps been the single most important study in shaping the treatment of the interwar period in survey accounts and should be used with careful attention to its point of view as well as to the wealth of data it provides.
A helpful introduction to the findings of Mays and Nicholson and some—though by no means all—of the other important social scientific studies of black religion during this period is to be found in Hart M. Nelsen and Ann Kusener Nelsen, Black Church in The Sixties (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1975), ch. 3. In their view, these studies “have made this era one of the best understood of all periods in the development of . . . the black church” (37). They have also gathered excerpts from some of these studies and a variety of additional sources in Hart M. Nelsen, Raytha L. Yokley, and Anne K. Nelsen, eds., The Black Church in America (New York: Basic Books, 1971). More useful in providing an initial orientation to black religious life during this period because of their chronological organization are the selections contained in parts 5 and 6 of Milton C. Sernett, ed., Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1985). The usefulness of this volume is further enhanced by the provision of bibliographical suggestions for further study at the end of each selection. It is to be noted, however, that whereas for the pre-World War I years historian Sernett’s selections are drawn heavily from leaders in the mainline churches, this is not true for the interwar period, where he excerpts sociological studies and the writings of “cult” leaders. Largely contemporary in its focus but still of use for our period is another reader, C. Eric Lincoln, ed., The Black Experience in Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974).
In spite of its title, Henry J. Young, Major Black Religious Leaders since 1940 (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1979), contains biographical sketches (albeit very brief ones emphasizing the subjects’ theological views) of a half-dozen highly influential figures whose careers fell at least partially in the interwar years. A number of other important black churchmen of this period are considered at greater length in Randall K. Burkett and Richard Newman, eds., Black Apostles: Afro-American Clergy Confront the Twentieth Century (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978). Both of these volumes suffer from an omission of women leaders. Though it covers black leadership in all fields and not just religion, Richard Bardolph, The Negro Vanguard (New York: Random House, 1959), part two, still provides the most complete introduction to the black church’s leadership elite during this period, including such women as Nannie Burroughs and Mary McLeod Bethune.
Regional and Local Studies
As was noted above, several anthropological and sociological studies undertaken within the period itself provide overviews and interpretations of black religion in specific regions or localities. Though the urbanization studies focused on the northern cities have been more influential in shaping the survey accounts, much of this literature deals with the south. Clifton H. Johnson, ed., God Struck Me Dead: Religious Conversion Experiences and Autobiographies of Ex-Slaves (Philadelphia: Pilgrim, 1969), is usually treated as a source for the study of slave religion, but it also illuminates southern black folk piety during the interwar years. The narratives that largely constitute the volume were collected in the late 1920s in central Tennessee by Andrew P. Watson, working under the auspices of the Social Science Institute at Fisk University. Watson’s work also produced “Primitive Religion among Negroes in Tennessee” (M.A. thesis, Fisk University, 1932). African-American religion in Macon County, Alabama, is examined in Charles S. Johnson, The Shadow of the Plantation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934; reprint, 1966, 1979), ch. 5, and black religious life in a Mississippi county seat (Indianola) and its environs is considered by two studies: John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1937; reprinted by several publishers), ch. 11, and Hortense Powdermaker, After Freedom: A Cultural Study in the Deep South (New York: Viking, 1939; reprint, New York: Atheneum, 1969), chs. 11–14 and appendix C. These volumes, especially the last, provide illuminating descriptions of black religious services, including revivals, baptisms, and funerals, and other church-related meetings as well. None of them, however, explores in depth the ritual symbolism and place of music in southern black worship or the historical development and trans-local functioning of black religious institutions. Dollard alludes to the work of Melville Herskovitz but is no more able than Johnson or Powdermaker to make any effective connection between the folk piety of the interwar years and the heritage of African traditional religion. Johnson in particular also tends to a narrow conception of southern black religion as a culturally lagging variant of early nineteenth-century white evangelicalism. Also to be consulted is Arthur Raper, Preface to Peasantry: A Tale of Two Black Belt Counties (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1936), ch. 18. This study of Greene and Macon counties in Georgia does not have much of the vivid descriptive material contained in the works just cited, but it offers a useful institutional profile of the area’s black churches and their relation to the white churches.
Two studies, both sponsored by the American Council of Education, consider religion’s role in the “coming of age” of southern blacks. Charles S. Johnson, Growing Up in the Black Belt: Negro Youth in the Rural South (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1941; reprint, New York: Schocken, 1967), ch. 5, draws on data from eight Black Belt counties, mostly in the Deep South, while E. Franklin Frazier, Negro Youth at the Crossways: Their Personality Development in the Middle States (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1940; reprint, New York: Schocken, 1967), ch. 5, is based on work in Washington, D.C., and Louisville, Kentucky. Frazier sees a rising disaffection from the church that he attributes to the secularizing effect of urbanization, but Johnson found that rural black youth in the plantation south were much more likely than their town or urban peers to have negative views of the church. Taken together with Powdermaker’s account in After Freedom of the relation of religion to social stratification in Indianola, Johnson’s data suggest that widely held views of the black church’s decline in the urban setting may be based in part on misleadingly romantic notions of the ecclesiastical solidarity of rural southern blacks. Frazier and Johnson’s warnings about the danger to the old-time churches of disaffected liberal youth must also be read in the light of Carter Woodson’s description, History of the Negro Church, ch. 12, of the late-nineteenth-century polarization in the black churches between “conservatives” and “progressives.” Sometimes, it would appear, the voice of youth is not the voice of the future but only the voice of youth—however much some of their elders might wish otherwise. This points up the danger of historical generalizations ventured on the basis of contemporary studies with no significant longitudinal dimension and suggests the likely value for our understanding of continuity and change within southern black religion of a study that systematically compared the findings of the volumes cited here with those of previous sociological studies of black religion, beginning with W. E. B. Du Bois, ed., The Negro Church (Atlanta: Atlanta University Press, 1903), reprinted in The Atlanta University Publication. Nos. 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 (New York: Arno, 1968).1 Beyond such wide ranging questions as these, further grounds for caution about E. Franklin Frazier’s findings are provided by the results of a smaller scale study of black youth in Baltimore and the “semi-rural” area surrounding Suffolk, Maryland, reported in Charles H. Wesley, “The Religious Attitudes of Negro Youth: A Preliminary Survey of Opinion in an Urban and a Rural Community,” Journal of Negro History 21 (1936): 376–93.
A useful survey of black religious life in Virginia, more cursory but more inclusive and institutionally informed than the studies cited above is provided in ch. 23 of a Hampton Institute project, The Negro in Virginia, compiled by the Writers’ Program of the Works Progress Administration (New York: Hastings House, 1940; reprint, New York: Arno, 1969). The authors’ narrative of Elder Solomon Lightfoot Michaux’s founding of the Church of God in post-World War I Newport News is a reminder that new religious movements were not in this period exclusively a product of the urban north. They also observe, however, that although “showmanship has placed the cult-leaders squarely in the bright light of publicity” and while “the cults levy on the membership of the orthodox denominations, yet there are numerous preachers, rural and urban, of the older creeds, who preach to overflowing churches.” “Being less sensational,” though, these “average preachers are not copy for newspapers and magazines.” Though more focused on leaders than on “the average pastor” and covering a century and a half span in which our period receives only limited attention, David M. Tucker, Black Pastors and Leaders: Memphis, 1819–1972 (Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1975), is one of the few available studies that takes the black churches in a southern city as its defining subject. The special case of New Orleans in the interwar period is discussed in the later chapters of Robert Tallant, Voodoo in New Orleans (New York: Macmillan, 1946; pbk. ed., New York: Collier, 1962). See also The WPA Guide to New Orleans, written and compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938); reprinted with a new introduction in The Historic New Orleans Collection (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), which, however, after acknowledging that “Negroes in New Orleans belong chiefly to the Baptist and Methodist churches” (82), focuses its discussion of religion almost entirely on “some negro cults.”
Whether in response to media attention or some other reason, scholars of northern urban religious history have been more attracted to the so-called “sects and cults” than to the churches of the “average preachers.” The standard works are Raymond Julius Jones, A Comparative Study of Religious Cult Behavior among Negroes (Washington, D.C.: Graduate School for the Division of the Social Sciences, Howard University, 1939; reprint, 1969), which focuses on three New York groups and ten in Washington, D.C.; Arthur Huff Fauset, Black Gods of the Metropolis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944; reprint, 1971), which treats Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America Inc., the United House of Prayer for All People, the Church of God (Black Jews), the Moorish Science Temple of America, and the Father Divine Peace Mission Movement; and Elmer T. Clark, The Small Sects in America (Nashville, Tenn.: Cokesbury, 1937; reprint, New York: Abingdon, 1949, 1959, 1965). Joseph R. Washington, Jr.’s interpretive essay Black Sects and Cults (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972) should also be consulted. Additional references are found in Williams and Brown, Howard University Bibliography, pp. 204–17, which has especially good coverage of black Muslim groups.
Other works have looked more generally at black religion in the northern urban setting. The classic sociological study of the Great Migration and black urban life during this period is St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1945; rev. and enlarged ed., 1962, 1970). This study of Chicago treats religion primarily in chs. 14, 19, 21, and 22. Two unpublished items that contributed to the above study but are also important in their own right are Robert Sutherland, “An Analysis of the Negro Churches in Chicago” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1930), and St. Clair Drake, “Churches and Voluntary Associations in the Chicago Negro Community” (WPA Project 465-54-3-306, Chicago, 1940). Also to be consulted is Vattel Elbert Daniel, “Ritual and Stratification in Chicago Negro Churches,” American Sociological Review 7 (1942): 352–61, which cites in its notes a number of unpublished theses and dissertations on the black churches in several other cities. For the study of African-American religious life in New York City during these years, a valuable resource is William M. Welty, “Black Shepherds: A Study of the Leading Negro Clergymen in New York City, 1900–1940”(Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1969). Written to balance scholarly “preoccupation with the Storefront Churches,” it presents its subjects as “on the whole, serious and able leaders concerned with building a viable black community within the city and with improving the status of the black man within the larger American society.” By working across denominational lines and presenting interwar developments in relation to pre-war trends, it provides an illuminating picture of the mainline black churches during this period. There is clearly room for comparable studies of other cities, in all parts of the country.
African Missions and Pan-Africanism (preliminary form only)
The largest mass movement in black American history, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, was at the height of its power at the beginning of our period. Its significance of black religious life during this period has been analyzed by Randall K. Burkett, Garveyism as A Religious Movement: The Institutionalization of a Black Civil Religion (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978). See also, by the same author, Black Redemption: Churchmen Speak for the Garvey Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978) . . . .
A major institutional base within the black churches for the promotion of such a Pan- Africanist or black nationalist ethos was the missionary movement. Much of the work on black church missions done so far focuses on the pre-World War I era, but some covers our period. Sylvia M. Jacobs, Black Americans and the Missionary Movement in Africa (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1982), includes . . . . Lillie Johnson (Edwards) has written a valuable study of “Black American Missionaries in Colonial Africa, 1900–1940: A Study of Missionary-Government Relations” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1981), but further investigation is needed both on the impact of black missionaries on what Lamin Sanneh characterizes as “African Christian independency” and on the missionary’s role in shaping black American perceptions of Africa. The multifaceted movement of people and ideas among the West Indies, the United States, and Africa must also be explored.
Literature, Folklore, and Music (preliminary form only)
The interwar years were a period of great cultural creativity for black Americans. Presumably one of the main reasons the black churches have seemed to many analysts to decline during these years is the emergence of striking and influential forms of cultural expression not “under the tutelage” of the church. Yet a fully adequate study of the relation between religion and both “high” and “folk” culture during this period remains to be done.
S. P. Fullinwider, Mind and Mood of Black America, chs. 4 and 6, emphasizes religious themes in the poetry and fiction of the influential writers of the era of the Harlem Renaissance. Among the works he discusses, some of those most directly relevant to this theme are: James Weldon Johnson, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (New York: Viking, 1927; reprint, 1969); Jean Toomer, Cane (New York: Boni & Liverlight, 1921); Countee Cullen, Color (New York: Harper, 1925), and The Black Christ and Other Poems (New York: Harper, 1929), and Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1942), which among other things recounts her growing up as the daughter of a Baptist preacher. (The latter book is now available in a new edition, significantly re-edited by Robert Hemenway, published in 1970, 2d ed.: 1984, by the University of Illinois Press, Urbana). Hurston is receiving increasing attention as a major American writer and the whole corpus of her fiction should be consulted for its illumination of southern black life and the place of religion within it. Very limited attention to this subject is given in Robert E. Hemenway, Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977).
Hurston, who studied anthropology under Franz Boas, also wrote non-fictional essays on black southern culture and religion, some of which have been published for the first time in Zora Neale Hurston, The Sanctified Church (Berkeley, Calif.: Turtle Island, 1983). In addition, she compiled a collection of black folklore, Mules and Men (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1935). Another very important collection gathered during this period (from a very different point of view) is Newbell Niles Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1926). There is an enormous body of both primary and secondary literature on black folk beliefs that seems to have received very little attention from those who have ventured the most influential general accounts of black religion during this period. For an important critique of the influence of social scientific and theological points of view on the study of African-American religion, generally, and a call for a history of religious approach that would include more attention to folkloric material, see Charles H. Long, “Perspectives for the Study of Afro-American Religion in the United States,” History of Religions 11 (1971): 54–66.
This period is also extremely important in the history of black religious music. Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History, 2d. ed. (New York: Norton, 1983), pp. 444–56, succinctly surveys the “emergence of Gospel.” A general view of these same developments is offered by Wyatt Tee Walker, “Somebody’s Calling My Name”: Black Sacred Music and Social Change (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1979). Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), offers a brief account of “the development of the gospel song” in the context of a general study of black folk culture. Levine argues that black gospel song developed within the “context of a sharpening dichotomy of sacred and secular music,” yet also observes that “the barriers were never complete” (179). Horace Boyer . . . .
Ralph H. Jones, Charles Albert Tindley, Prince of Preachers (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1982), is the life story of a black Methodist Episcopal clergyman and prolific hymn writer whose career extended into this period. The career of Thomas A. Dorsey, “the father of gospel music” and his role in its development in the mainline black churches is the subject of an important study by Michael W. Harris, “The Advent of Gospel Blues in Black Old-Line Churches in Chicago, 1932–33, as Seen through the Life and Mind of Thomas Andrew Dorsey” (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1982). See also Mary Ann Lancaster Tyler, “The Music of Charles Henry Pace and Its Relationship to the Afro-American Church Experience” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1980).
An important attempt to relate black music to preaching and ritual is the special issue on “Black Church Ritual and Aesthetics,” Southern Quarterly 23 (1985). A number of articles relate to developments in our period. Paul Oliver, Songsters and Saints: Vocal Traditions on Race Records (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), chs. 5–7, discusses the numerous recordings of sermons made during this period by black preachers.
Blacks in Predominantly White Denominations
Williams and Brown, Howard University Bibliography, pp. 261–300, cites material pertaining to the relation of blacks to nearly all the main predominantly white religious groups, including the major Protestant ecumenical bodies, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the various branches of Judaism.
David Reimers, White Protestantism and the Negro (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), ch. 4, provides a general survey of racial attitudes and the place of blacks in the major predominantly white Protestant denominations. Also to be consulted is Willis D. Weatherford, American Churches and the Negro (Boston: Christopher, 1957), ch. 9, and three works by Robert Moats Miler: “The Attitude of American Protestantism toward the Negro, 1919–1939,” Journal of Negro History 41 (1956): 185–214; “The Protestant Churches and Lynching,” Journal of Negro History 42 (1957): 118–31; and American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919–1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958), ch. 20. Of use also is Paul Carter, The Decline and Revival of Social Gospel: Social and Political Liberalism in American Protestant Churches 1920–1940 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1954). It is to be noted that all these studies were done more than twenty years ago. Clearly a fresh account is in order.
The three basic works on blacks in the Congregational, Presbyterian, and Protestant Episcopal churches deal with the period under consideration in this essay, but only briefly. They are A. Knighton Stanley, The Children is Crying: Congregationalism among Black People (New York: Pilgrim, 1979); Andrew Murray, Presbyterians and the Negro: A History (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1966); and George F. Bragg, History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church (Baltimore, Md.: Church Advocate Press, 1922; reprint, New York: Johnson, 1968). Bragg himself was one of the leading figures among black clergy in the Episcopal Church in the period from 1919–39. He published several books, more than 15 pamphlets, and for nearly fifty years published the Church Advocate “in the interest of the Colored Race, in general, and of the Episcopal Church.” But there are as yet no published accounts of his life and work. A number of other black Episcopal priests active during this period are represented, however, in John M. Burgess, Black Gospel/White Church (New York: Seabury, 1982), a collection of sermons with brief biographical sketches of their authors. The Journal of Presbyterian History (JPH) has published a number of articles on black Presbyterians in our period. The first of these is Henry J. Ferry’s valuable “Racism and Reunion: A Black Protest by Francis James Grimke,” JPH 50 (1972): 77–88, followed by a special issue entitled “Black Presbyterians in Ministry,” JPH 51 (1973). This issue contained the first of a series of articles by Frank T. Wilson, ed., “Living Witnesses: Black Presbyterians in Ministry,” JPH 51(1973): 347–91. The second installment of “Living Witnesses: Black Presbyterians in Ministry” was published in JPH 53 (1975): 187–222, and the third was published in JPH 55 (1977): 180–238. Henry Hugh Proctor, a black Congregationalist known especially for his pastorate of Atlanta’s black institutional church, published in the twilight of his career an autobiography: Between Black and White: Autobiographical Sketches (Boston: Pilgrim, 1925). The most influential black Congregationalist during this period was probably George Edmund Haynes, who served from 1922 to 1947 as the executive director of the Commission on Race Relations of the Federal Council of Churches. Daniel J. Perlman, “Stirring The White Conscience: The Life of George Edmund Haynes” (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1972), provides a full biographical account. A more recent interpretation of Haynes’s life and thought is Samuel K. Roberts, “George Edmund Haynes: Advocate for Interracial Co-Operation,” in Burkett and Newman, Black Apostles, pp. 97–127. On blacks in the Christian Churches, which merged with the Congregationalists in 1931, see Percel O. Alston, “The Afro-Christian Connection,” in Barbara Brown Zikmund, Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ (New York: United Church Press, 1984).
Mark D. Morrison-Reed, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination (Boston: Beacon, 1984), discusses Egbert Ethelred Brown and Lewis A. McGee, two black Unitarian ministers whose careers spanned our period. Hap Lyda, “A History of Black Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in the United States through 1899” (Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1972), covers nineteenth-century developments. There is no standard account for these years of blacks in the Disciples of Christ, but a beginning may be made from the Preliminary Guide to Black Materials in the Disciples of Christ Historical Society (Nashville, Tenn.: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1971). Minimal information is also provided by Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (St. Louis, Mo.: Bethany Press, 1975), some of it apparently drawn from Robert L. Jordan, Two Races in One Fellowship (Detroit, Mich.: United Christian Church, 1944). Also to be consulted is Winfred Ernest Garrison and Alfred T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ: A History (St. Louis, Mo.: Christian Board of Publication, 1948), ch. 21.
The most sizable body of black Protestants within a biracial denomination was the black membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church. The period opened encouragingly in 1920 with the election of the denomination’s first two (domestic) black bishops, Robert E. Jones and Matthew W. Clair, but closed disappointingly in 1939 when the church’s reunion with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, led to creation of the strictly segregated Central Jurisdiction for the denomination’s black membership. This story has been most recently though briefly retold in Harry V. Richardson, Dark Salvation: The Story of Methodism as It Developed among Blacks in America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976), ch. 26, and William B. McClain, Black People in the Methodist Church: Whither Thou Goest? (Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1984), chs. 7–9. Also to be consulted are Emory S. Bucke, gen. ed., The History of American Methodism (New York: Abingdon, 1964), vol. 3, ch. 32 and 33, section 1; J. Beverly F. Shaw The Negro in the History of Methodism (Nashville, Tenn.: Parthenon, 1954); and Dwight L. Culver, Negro Segregation in the Methodist Church (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1953). Robert Moats Miller, How Shall They Hear without A Preacher? (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1971), ch. 13, provides an illuminating account from the vantage point of one of Northern Methodism’s leading white liberals, while Prince A. Taylor, Jr., The Life of My Years (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1983), is the autobiography of a southern black who entered the Methodist ministry during these years and eventually went on to become editor of the Central Jurisdiction’s Central Christian Advocate and subsequently a bishop. On Mary McLeod Bethune, see Clarence G. Newsome, “Mary McLeod Bethune as Religionist,” in Hilah F. Thomas and Rosemary Skinner Keller, eds., Women in New Worlds: Historical Perspectives on the Wesleyan Tradition (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1981), pp. 102–16, and B. Joyce Ross, “Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Youth Administration: A Case Study of Power Relationships in the Black Cabinet of Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Journal of Negro History 60 (1975): 1–28, reprinted in John Hope Franklin and August Meier, eds., Black Leaders in the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), pp. 191–220. As Bethune’s career shows, one of the most important dimensions of black life in the predominantly white denominations were their black colleges and seminaries, which often educated leaders for the independent black denominations as well. For Methodism’s important work in this area, see James P. Brawley, Two Centuries of Methodist Concern: Bondage, Freedom, and Education of Black People (New York:Vantage, 1974).
Because black Baptist practice allows for simultaneous participation in more than one national convention, the line between blacks in predominantly white Baptist denominations and those in the independent black Baptist denominations is sometimes hard to draw. This is particularly true of black educators who served for all or part of their careers in black institutions related to the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Educated at Benedict, Colgate and Harvard, Gordon Blaine Hancock served throughout this period as professor at Virginia Union University in Richmond, becoming dean of the seminary in 1940. Raymond Gavins has provided an overview of Hancock’s career, “Gordon Blaine Hancock: A Black Profile from the New South,” in Burkett and Newman, eds., Black Apostles, pp. 77–96 and a full biography, The Perils and Prospects of Southern Black Leadership: Gordon Blaine Hancock, 1884–1970 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1971). Benjamin E. Mays received an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago before becoming dean of the School of Religion at Howard University in 1934. Six years later he became president of Morehouse College. He tells his own story in Born to Rebel: An Autobiography (New York: Scribners, 1971), After studying at Rochester Theological Seminary and serving a Baptist church in Oberlin, Ohio, Howard Thurman returned to Atlanta in 1929 to teach at his undergraduate alma mater, Morehouse College, for three years before becoming dean of the chapel and professor of theology at Howard University. His autobiography is With Head and Heart (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1979). The author of almost two dozen books, Thurman is the subject of two recent studies: Luther E. Smith, Jr., Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981), and Henry James Young, ed., God and Human Freedom: A Festschrift in Honor of Howard Thurman (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1983). A systematic study of the role of such figures as these in developing the theology of liberal Protestantism within a black context needs to be undertaken. Useful in this connection is an article discussing the role of Mays, Thurman, and other black Baptist leaders in the ecumenical movement: Pearl L. McNeil, “Baptist Black Americans and the Ecumenical Movement,” in William Jerry Boney and Glenn A. Igleheat, eds., Baptists and Ecumenism (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1980), pp. 103–17.
Relatively little work appears to have been done on black membership in American Protestant bodies of European continental origin. A recent general study of blacks in the Reformed Church is Noel Erskine, Black People and the Reformed Church in America (Lansing, Ill.: Reformed Church Press, 1978). Erwin R. Krebs, The Lutheran Church and the American Negro (Columbus, Ohio: Board of American Missions, American Lutheran Church, 1950), treats. . . .
Although it focuses primarily on the period before 1865 and is sketchiest in our period, Newell G. Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1981), provides a general orientation to the place of blacks in interwar Mormonism and, through its notes and bibliography, useful ideas for further study. We are not aware of comparable surveys of such other denominations as the Seventh Day Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some indication of the available literature—or rather the lack of it—on the latter group during our period is contained in the footnotes of Lee R. Cooper, “‘Publish’ or Perish: Negro Jehovah’s Witness Adaptation in the Ghetto,” in Irving I. Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone, eds., Religious Movements in Contemporary America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974), though the article itself is more contemporary in its concerns.
This was an important period in the history of black Catholics. The establishment in 1920 by the Society of the Divine Word of a seminary to train black priests (St. Augustine’s Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi) marked a major breakthrough in the access of black Catholics to the priesthood. The formation in 1917 of the Federation of Colored Catholics meanwhile marked a revival of the lay activism that had flourished under Daniel Rudd’s leadership in the 1880s and 1890s. The 1930s also saw a marked increase in the number of black Americans converting to Catholicism, the church’s total black membership rising to 300,000 by the end of the decade. A lucid and informative short introductory essay on the general history of American black Catholics is Albert J. Raboteau, “Black Catholics: A Capsule History,” Catholic Digest (June 1983): 32–38. John T. Gillard, The Catholic Church and the Negro (Baltimore, Md.: St. Joseph’s Society Press, 1929; reprint, Chicago, 1968) provides a detailed portrait of black Catholic life on the eve of the depression while the life stories of the black priests active during these years are recounted in Albert T. Foley, God’s Men of Color: The Colored Catholic Priests of the United States, 1854–1954 (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1955). Also to be consulted is William Osborne, The Segregated Covenant: Race Relations and American Catholics (New York: Herder & Herder, 1967). All of Which I Saw, Part of Which I Was: The Autobiograpy of George K. Hunton, as Told to Gary MacEoin (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967), recounts the life of a white Catholic layman who helped found the Catholic Interracial Council 1934.
The Black Establishment: The Independent Methodist and Baptist Denominations
In spite of the prominence of black Baptist and Methodist institutions, in terms of their overwhelming numbers of total church membership, there has been very little detailed study of these denominations during the interwar years. Many of the key studies that are available are cited in Williams and Brown, Howard University Bibliography, pp. 183–93 for Methodist bodies; pp. 193–99 for Baptist bodies. The best guide to Methodist materials generally is Kenneth E. Rowe, comp., Black Methodism: An Introductory Guide to the Literature, United Methodist Bibliography Series, no. 3 (Madison, N.J.: General Commission on Archives and History, United Methodist Church, 1984). See also Lewis V. Baldwin, “New Directions for the Study of Blacks in Methodism,” in Russell E. Richey and Kenneth E. Rowe, Rethinking Methodist History (Nashville, Tenn.: Kingwood Books, 1985), pp. 185–93.
George A. Singleton, The Romance of African Methodism (New York: Exposition, 1952), and Howard D. Gregg, History of the A. M. E. Church: The Black Church in Action (Nashville, Tenn.: AME Sunday School Union, 1980), provide the best introduction to AME activity in the period. On AME missions, see Lewellyn L. Berry, A Century of Missions of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1840–1940 (New York: Gutenberg, 1942) and Eunice Griffin, The Rise of American Missions: The African Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Coker, 1960). The late Bishop William J. Walls, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the Black Church (Charlotte, N.C.: AME Zion Pub. House, 1974) is a major contribution to the history of that denomination, though David H. Bradley’s two-volume study, A History of the AME Zion Church (Nashville, Tenn.: Parthenon, 1956–70) should still be consulted. There is no comparable modern history of the CME Church, but the story during these years of black Methodism’s oldest denomination is told in one chapter of Lewis V. Baldwin, “Invisible” Strands in African Methodism: A History of the African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal Churches, 1805–1980 (Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow, 1983). Dennis C. Dickerson has published a valuable essay on “Black Ecumenism: Efforts to Establish a United Methodist Episcopal Church, 1918–1932,” Church History 52 (1983): 479–91. Dark Salvation: The Story of Methodism as It Developed among Blacks in America (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1976), should also be consulted on black Methodism generally.
Relatively few extended biographical studies have been done of the leading figures in the black Methodist denominations during this period. AME editors, then bishops, Reverdy C. Ransom and Richard R. Wright, Jr., have told their own stories, respectively, in The Pilgrimage of Harriet Ransom’s Son (Nashville, Tenn.: AME Sunday School Union, 1949), and Eighty-Seven Years Behind the Black Curtain (Philadelphia: Rare Book Co., 1965). Ransom’s earlier career is covered in David W. Wills, “Reverdy C. Ransom: The Making of an AME Bishop,” in Burkett and Newman, eds., Black Apostles, pp. 181–212, while an overview of his whole life is provided by Calvin S. Morris, “Reverdy C. Ransom: A Pioneer Black Social Gospeler,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1982). No extended scholarly work has been done on Wright. With a B.D. (1901) and M.A. (1904) from the University of Chicago, a year of study in Leipzig and Berlin (1903–4), and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania (1912), Wright could be studied alongside such figures as Haynes, Mays, and Hancock as influencing the development within the black churches of a Protestantism reshaped by theological liberalism and the social gospel. A Zion Methodist who, like Ransom and Wright, stepped from an editorship to the bishopric, William J. Walls served as editor of the Star of Zion from 1920 to 1924, when he was elected bishop. An influential figure in his denomination for close to sixty years, Walls has not, to our knowledge, been the subject of any sustained scholarly investigation. Though he later studied journalism and philosophy at Columbia University and Christian education at the University of Chicago, Walls was mainly educated at Zion Methodism’s own education center—Livingstone College and Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, N.C. Indicative of one dimension of the black ecumenism fostered by the black colleges of many denominations is the fact that three of the dozen men elected to the Zion episcopate between 1920 and 1940 received their education at Presbyterian Lincoln University. Collective biographies of such sets of church leaders would no doubt reveal other significant patterns in the development of these denominations’ hierarchies, but none apparently have been undertaken—other than the studies of Garveyite clergy contained in Burkett’s Garveyism as a Religious Movement and Black Redemption. The latter studies are also a reminder that in spite of the central importance of the bishopric in black Methodist denominations, not all important and influential black Methodists were bishops—or even clergy. Zion pastor James Walker Hood Eason was a central figure in the Garveyite controversy until his assassination in 1924, while notable black editor John Edward Bruce (“Bruce Grit”), who also died early in the period, was an active AMEZ layman. Another sometime Garveyite whose career would bear further examination is William Yancey Bell. Educated at the CME Church’s Lane College (B.A.), Northwestern University (M.A.), Garrett Biblical Institute (S.T.B.), and Yale University (Ph.D. in New Testament), Bell pastored Williams Institutional CME Church in New York and then taught successively at Gammon Theological Seminary, Morris Brown College, and Howard University—none of them CME institutions—before being elected a CME bishop in 1983. For biographical sketches of Eason, Bruce, and Bell, see Brukett, Black Redemption. An older CME bishop, Charles Henry Phillips, provided during this period an account of his own life in From the Farm to the Bishopric (Nashville, Tenn.: Parthenon, 1932). Unfortunately, black Methodism’s female leaders during these years have scarcely been identified. More scholarly work on black Methodism women’s organizations and on these churches generally at the regional and local levels—would greatly advance our knowledge of women’s role in the black Methodist denominations.
Lewis G. Jordan, Negro Baptist History, U.S.A., 1750–1930 (Nashville, Tenn.: Sunday School Publishing Board, 1930), especially pp. 144–152, 238–26, 340–36, remains the single best source of information on Baptists in the 1920s and 30s (now available on microfilm from University Microfilms International). James O. Tyms, The Rise of Religious Education among Negro Baptists (New York: Exposition, 1965), chs. 9–10 and 12, examine the educational programs of the black Baptist churches during this period. Brief and very general in its scope but still useful in providing an introduction to a much neglected topic is J. Deotis Roberts, “Ecumenical Concerns among National Baptists,” in Boney and Igleheat, Baptists and Ecumenism, pp. 38–48. Relevant too is the Pearl L. McNeil chapter in the same volume, cited above.
In addition to Mays, Thurman, and Hancock, discussed above, there were numerous other black Baptist figures whose careers merit—and in some cases have received—serious scholarly attention. Evelyn Brooks has an important essay on “Nannie Burroughs and the Education of Black Women” in Sharon Harley and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, eds., The Afro-American Woman: Struggles and Images (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1978), pp. 97–108. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., supplied a narrative of his career through most of our period in Against the Tide: An Autobiography (New York: R. R. Smith, 1938). A very useful study that is at once institutional and biographical is John William Kinney, “Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: A Historical Exposition and Theological Analysis” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1979). Its careful account of the activities during this period of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem provides an illuminating vantage point from which to assess the mainline black churches’ response to the Great Migration and the Great Depression.
Miles Mark Fisher, an important Baptist figure in his own right, provided a helpful study of Chicago’s leading black Baptist congregations in “The History of the Olivet Baptist Church of Chicago” (M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1922). Chapter 5 covers the years 1915–22. Olivet, the largest Protestant church in America in the interwar period, has been the base from which two powerful clergymen, Lacey K. Williams and Joseph H. Jackson, virtually ruled the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., for most of the twentieth century. Williams, who was president of the Convention from 1923 to 1940, has not received the scholarly attention he clearly deserves. Pilgrim Baptist Church, also of Chicago, was by 1930 the NBC’s third largest congregation. Besides being the base of operations for most of his period of the “father of gospel music,” Thomas C. Dorsey, it was pastored after 1926 by Junius C. Austin, a “progressive” leader who repeatedly challenged Williams for the denomination’s leadership. Randall K. Burkett has explored Austin’s career in Black Redemption, pp. 113–20, and “The Black Church in the Years of Crisis: J. C. Austin and the Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1926–1950” (forthcoming). Ida Rousseau Mukenge, The Black Church in Urban American: A Case Study in Political Economy (Lanaham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983), while more contemporary in its emphasis provides a portrait of the history during our period of North Richmond Baptist Church, a California congregation. Another frustrated candidate for the presidency of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., William Henry Moses, was, like Austin, an active Garveyite, a large church pastor, and influential denomination figure during our period. Like Austin, too, he was an alumnus of Virginia Seminary and College at Lynchberg, which played a major role in creating within the denomination a leadership cadre of militant, nationalistic clergy. A brief account of his career and the text of one of his speeches are provided in Burkett, Black Redemption, pp. 121–37.
That the best known and most studied black Baptist leaders tend to be pastors and educators rather than denominational executives is a reminder of the ongoing influence of Baptist and Methodist polity in the lives of these churches. (This is not to say, however, that black Baptist and Methodist polities functioned exactly as their white counterparts did, for the evidence suggests that they did not. The black denominations seem, for example, to have been highly resistant to bureaucratization and to have relied more, speaking in Weberian terms, on charismatic and traditionalistic than on rational legal authority. This, however, is a matter that requires careful systematic study before the similarities and differences can be adequately stated.) That Baptists and Methodists differed in this regard is a reminder that they may have differed in other ways as well. No doubt the mainline black Baptist and Methodists have to a significant extent shared a common fortune in the post-World War I era. But there is no reason to believe that they have done so in all respects. W. E. B. Du Bois could plausibly write as late as 1903, in The Negro Church, that “the greatest voluntary association of Negroes in the world is probably the African Methodist Episcopal Church” (123). That claim is harder to sustain, even within the world of the black churches, after World War I. Slower to create effective and durable national organizations than the Methodists, the Baptists in a sense were only coming into their own as the twentieth century began and perhaps they have better survived its vicissitudes than the Methodist denominations. It is at least a hypothesis worth considering that the pre-eminence of Martin Luther King, Jr., in mid-century black American Christianity was not simply an individual triumph but a reflection of the underlying reality of the “Baptist Age” in black church history.
Holiness, Pentecostal, and Black Spiritual Churches
There is a growing body of literature on the Holiness and Pentecostal churches, which emerged beginning in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Though not peculiarly a phenomenon of the interwar years, black Pentecostalism is an important component of black religious life in this period. Perhaps the best survey is James C. Richardson, Jr., With Water and Spirit: A History of the Black Apostolic Denominations in the United States (Washington, D.C.: Spirit, 1980). Also useful, however, is Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971), which places the movement in the context of the theological traditions from which it emerged, and which emphasizes the centrality of black clergymen to its development. Chapters 3, 5, 7, 8, and 9 deal with black Pentecostalism. Indispensable as a guide to information on individual denominations is Walter J. Hollenweger, “A Black Pentecostal Concept: A Forgotten Chapter of Black History,” Concept, special issue 30, June 1970 (available from the World Council of Churches, 150 Route de Ferney, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland). In addition to a brief interpretive essay, it contains addresses of headquarters, publications, schools, missions, statistics, history and doctrine, and a guide to literature on thirty-three black Pentecostal groups. Also valuable is his The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1972). Charles E. Jones, A Guide to the Study of the Holiness Movement, ATLA Bibliography Series, no. 1 (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1974), is a mine of information on Holiness churches. Two more recent bibliographies are James S. Tinney, Black Pentecostalism: An Annotated Bibliography (Washington D.C., 1979), originally published in a journal Tinney edited for four years entitled Spirit: A Journal of Issues Incident to Black Pentecostalism; and the essay by Robert G. Kleinhans, “Afro-American Pentecostalism: A Bibliography for an Introduction to the Tradition,” Newsletter (of the Afro-American Religious History Group of the American Academy of Religion) 7, no. 2 (spring 1983): 4–8.
David W. Faupel, The American Pentecostal Movement: A Bibliographical Essay (Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury Theological Seminary, 1972) has a brief section on black Pentecostalism. Recent dissertations to be consulted are James M. Shropshire, “A Socio-Historical Characterization of the Black Pentecostal Movement in America” (Northwestern University/Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, 1974), and Douglas J. Nelson, “For Such a Time as This: The Story of Bishop William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival. A Search for Pentecostal/Charismatic Roots” (University of Birmingham, England, 1981). Bishop Otho Beale Cobbins was a general editor of the History of Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A. 1895–1965 (New York: Vantage, 1966), which is a valuable source of information on this particular denomination. David M. Tucker devotes some attention in his Black Pastors and Leaders: Memphis, 1819–1972 (Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1975) to the development of the Church of God in Christ, although much more detail will be found in a work on which Tucker relied: J. O. Patterson, German R. Ross, and Julia Mason Atkins, eds., History and Formative Years of the Church of God in Christ with Excerpts from the Life and Works of its Founder, Bishop C. H. Mason (Memphis: Church of God in Christ Pub. House, 1969).
The first full-length study of Solomon Lightfoot Michaux’s Church of God, which came out of the Holiness tradition, is Lillian Ashcraft Webb, About My Father’s Business: The Life of Elder Michaux (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1981). This is a scholarly study written by one who was raised in the denomination and who therefore had unusual access to church members, relatives and former associates of Michaux. Webb also calls attention to an important unpublished dissertation by Chancellor Williams, “The Socio-Economic Significance of the Store-Front Church Movement in the United States Since 1920” (Ph.D. dissertation, American University, 1949).
Hans A. Baer provides a useful bibliographical guide to black Spiritual churches in his essay, “The Black Spiritualist Tradition: An Introduction and Bibliography to Research on a Neglected Religious Movement,” in Newsletter 9, no. 1 (fall 1984): 9–11. See also his recent study, The Black Spiritual Movement: A Religious Response to Racism (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984).
The African Orthodox Church
The African Orthodox Church began as a racial branch of the Protestant Episcopal Church, founded in 1921 by George Alexander McGuire under the inspiration of Marcus Garvey. There is a valuable biographical sketch of McGuire in Gaven White, “Patriarch McGuire and the Episcopal Church,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 38 (1969): 109–41. Additional information is found in Byron Rushing, “A Note on the Origin of the African Orthodox Church,” Journal of Negro History 57 (1972): 37–39. Chapter 3 of Burkett, Garveyism as a Religious Movement: The Institutionalization of a Black Civil Religion (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1978), is devoted to a discussion of McGuire and the AOC, and a biographical sketch of McGuire is provided in Burkett, Black Redemption.
Arthur C. Terry-Thompson, The History of the African Orthodox Church (New York, 1956), is the standard denominational history. George Freeman Bragg, History of the Afro-American Group of the Protestant Episcopal Church (Baltimore, Md.: Church of Advocate Press, 1922; reprint, New York: Johnson, 1968), which has information on McGuire and several other Episcopalians who later joined the AOC, should also be consulted. The Kraus-Thompson reprint of the AOC’s official periodical, The Negro Churchman, with an excellent introduction by Richard A. Newman, makes available a major resource for the study of this denomination.
A number of black Jewish groups emerged in urban centers such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Harlem in the early decades of the twentieth century. The congregations tended to be small and often did not survive the deaths of their leaders, so that information concerning them is difficult to obtain. One of the most stable groups has been the Commandment Keepers Congregation of the Living God, founded by Wentworth A. Matthew and discussed at length in Howard Brotz, The Black Jews of Harlem: Negro Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Negro leadership (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1964). Though Brotz’s book has been severely criticized, as in the review in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion 41 (1973): 268–69, it is still the most frequently cited work on black Jews. It should be supplemented with Howard Waitzkin, “Black Judaism in New York,” Harvard Journal of Negro Affairs 1 (1967): 12–44, which focuses on the religious beliefs and rituals of the Commandment Keepers.
Another important Harlem black Jewish leader, and for a while an associate of Wentworth Matthew, was Arnold J. Ford (d. 1935). A brief biographical sketch may be found in Sidney Kobre, “Rabbi Ford,” Reflex (January 1929): 25–29. Ruth Landes, “Negro Jews in Harlem,” Jewish Journal of Sociology 9 (1967): 175–89, is based on original research conducted between 1929 and 1931. Albert Ehrman provides additional information on Ford in his “Black Judaism in New York,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 8 (1971): 103–14. More recently, William A. Shack, “Ethiopia and Afro-Americans: Some Historical Notes, 1920–1970,” Phylon 35 (1974): 142–55, provides documentation on Ford’s activities in Ethiopia during the 1930s, when he led a settlement of West Indians there and founded a school for Falasha children in Addis Abbaba. Shack cites one item which we have not seen: Mignon Ford, Short History of Princess Zenebe-Worg School (Addis Abbaba, 1962), written by Arnold Ford’s wife. Kenneth J. King, “Some Notes on Arnold J. Ford and New World Black Attitudes to Ethiopia,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 10 (1972): 81–87 (reprinted in Burkett and Newman, eds., Black Apostles) provides additional information on Ford in Ethiopia.
Fauset, Black Gods of the Metropolis (cited earlier), devotes chapter 4 of his study to Prophet F. S. Cherry’s Church of God. Chapter 5 of the same work compares Cherry’s Philadelphia based black Jewish group to four other contemporaneous cults in Philadelphia. Excerpts from Deanne Shapiro’s Columbia University M.A. thesis “Double Damnation, Double Salvation: the Sources and Varieties of Black Judaism in the United States” have been published as “Factors in the Development of Black Judaism” in C. Eric Lincoln, ed., The Black Experience in Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1974), pp. 254–72.
Black Muslims (section not drafted)
The Peace Movement
One of the most interesting charismatic religious figures of the post World War I years is Father Divine, who has been the subject of numerous studies. Two non-scholarly biographies appeared in the mid-1930s: John Hoshor, God in a Rolls-Royce: The Rise of Father Divine, Madman, Menace, or Messiah (New York: Hillman-Curl, 1936); and Robert A. Parker, The Incredible Messiah: The Deification of Father Divine (Boston: Little, Brown, 1937). The most frequently cited early study is that of Sara Harris, Father Divine, Holy Husband (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1953). Kenneth E. Burnham, God Comes to America: Father Divine and the Peace Mission Movement (Boston: Lambeth, 1979) is based on his 1963 dissertation, and is the first of several recent studies which should be consulted. Roma Barnes, “‘Blessings Flowing Free’: The Father Divine Peace Mission Movement in Harlem, New York City, 1932–1941,” is an unpublished Ph.D. thesis completed at the University of York, England, in 1979. The most recent book on Father Divine, Robert Weisbrot, Father Divine and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), is also based on the author’s doctoral dissertation. Weisbrot’s work is well-written and emphasizes Divine’s role as American reformer, focusing especially on his role as social activist in the decade of the 1930s. There is still a need for analysis of the Father Divine movement. One interesting avenue of approach would be to view the Peace Mission in the tradition of nineteenth-century American communal movements, such as the Shakers, the Fourierists, and the Oneida community. Another approach would be a comparative study of the Peace Mission Movement and Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. It has long been asserted that the two organizations had much in common and that many Garveyites turned to Father Divine when the UNIA collapsed. No recent study has systematically examined this question, though St. Clair Drake begins such an analysis in his “Foreward” to Garveyism as a Religious Movement. It is interesting to note that Divine’s first publication, the World (Peace) Echo was a continuation of Garvey’s Negro World, and at least the first fifteen issues of the World Echo were dually numbered “Old Series” (according to Negro World volume and issue) and “New Series” (beginning vol. 1, no. 1, etc.).
II. Resources for Further Study
Access to more specified bibliographies than those noted above may be gained by consulting Richard Newman, “A Preliminary List of Bibliographies on Afro-American Religion,” Newsletter 5, no. 2 (spring 1981): 8–12, which lists sixty-nine separately published bibliographies on all aspects of African-American religion. A few additions to this list may be found in his Black Access: A Bibliography of Afro-American Bibliographies (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood, 1984).
A list of one hundred seventy-nine doctoral dissertations dealing with African-American religious history was published in the Newsletter 2, no. 2 (Spring 1978): 4–16. Nearly half of these deal with the period under consideration in this essay. A supplement and up-date to that list was published in vol. 8, no. 2 (spring 1984): 10–13. Abstracts of recent dissertations are published in the Newsletter as they come to the attention of the editor.2
The essential guide to scholarly periodical literature on black history generally, including black religious history, is vols. 1–2 of Dwight L. Smith, Afro-American History: A Bibliography (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1974, 1981), publications number 2 and 8 in the Clio Bibliography Series. These two volumes contain abstracts of more than 7,000 articles appearing between 1951 and 1978.
The primary source for statistics on the black church between the World Wars is the Census of Religious Bodies. Three decennial reports for the years 1916, 1926, and 1936 must be consulted in order to have a complete picture of the period. In each of these reports, statistics on black churches were compiled separately, providing voluminous data on the denominations included. The comprehensive reports were issued in two parts, one devoted to “Summary and Detailed Tables,” and the other devoted to “Separate Denominations,” including statistics, history, doctrine, organization, and work of each. A critical analysis of trends reflected in the decade 1916–26 may be found in Mays and Nicholson, The Negro Church, ch. 5, “Membership in Urban Churches.” One may also consult C. Luther Fry, The U.S. Looks at Its Churches ( New York: Institute of Social and Religious Research, 1930), which is a study of the 1926 Census. A “Brief Summary of Statistics for Negro Churches: 1936, 1926,” publication N57 (Washington, D.C., July 1941), was compiled by the Bureau of the Census, J. C. Capt, director. A copy of this useful thirteen-page summary is located in the Vertical Files, “Churches,” Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
Among the factors which restrict the usefulness of these censuses, one of the most frustrating is that many black groups were not included in the survey. The following are the “Newly Organized Denominations” among black churches which the censuses did include:
African Orthodox Church (founded 1921)
African Orthodox Church of New York (chartered 1927)
Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God (founded 1916)
Churches of God, Holiness (founded 1914)
Free Church of God in Christ (founded 1915)
Kodesh Church of Immanuel (founded 1929)
National David Spiritual Temple of Christ Church Union (founded 1936)
The House of God, the Holy Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, House of Prayer for All People (formed 1913, first reported 1936)
House of the Lord (formed 1925, first reported 1936)
The 1936 census identified the following “Small Sects” which it omitted in its report “because of the nature of these movements and for the reason that they do not have a distinctive membership”:
Bishop Grace’s House of Prayer
Father Divine’s Peace Mission
Moslem Temple, Detroit, Mich.
Reformed American Catholic Church Diocese
(Harlem’s Little Church Around the Corner, or The Little Church of the Black Virgin)
It is noteworthy that none of the groups which were discussed, for instance, in Arthur H. Fauset, Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944), is included in the 1936 Census.
Additional statistical information on the mainline black denominations may be found in the Negro Year Book, published irregularly between 1912 and 1938 under the editorship of Monroe N. Work, director of the Tuskegee Institute Department of Records and Research. In addition to statistical information these volumes contain a cumulative bibliography of periodical articles on religion; lists of denominational leaders for various churches; historical summaries of the development of independent denominations; and biographies of prominent clergymen. They are now available in microform reprint.
For a limited time, the AME Church published under the editorship of Reverdy C. Ransom a Year Book of Negro Churches, with Statistics and Records of Achievements of Negroes in the United States. The first volume in this series was published in 1935/36 at Wilberforce, Ohio. Another edition, with Ransom and James H. Robinson as joint editors, was published for 1939/40. There was also an AME Year Book which was irregularly published. The volume for 1928 (copy at Atlanta University) was edited by William H. H. Butler.
General statistical information on all facets of black life in America may be found in Negroes in the United States 1920–32, compiled by Charles E. Hall (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, 1935). Chapter 18, “Religious Bodies,” is drawn from the 1926 Census of Religious Bodies.
For biographical information on black clergy in the period, a useful starting place is the various who’s whos published beginning in the early part of the twentieth century. Frank Lincoln Mather edited Who’s Who of the Colored Races (Detroit: Gale Research, 1915), which includes in its 296 pages of biographies a large percentage of clergymen and church workers. The first volume of Who’s Who in Colored America was published under the editorship of Joseph J. Boris (New York, 1927) and was updated in six successive volumes, the last of which appeared in 1950. The 1927 edition contains an index listing individuals by occupation and place of residence.
Various denominations have published clergy directories, cyclopedias or who’s whos. Many of these are listed in Barbara L. Bell, Black Biographical Sources: An Annotated Bibliography (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Library, 1970). One may also consult the list of “Sources for Biographical Sketches of Afro-American Religious Leaders,” Newsletter 3, no. 1 (fall 1978): 5–9. Williams and Brown, Howard University Bibliography, contains a valuable “Autobiographical and Biographical Index” (pp. 385–471). Also useful for is the “Index to Obituary Sketches in the Journal of Negro History, 1926–58,” which appeared in the Journal of Negro History 57 (1972): 447–54. An extremely valuable general guide to biographical information is the “Index to Biographies” which was developed over the years by the staff of the Moorland-Spingarn Library at Howard University. It is a name index to biographical information found in a large number of biographical dictionaries, collected biographies, denominational histories and other volumes received by the Moorland-Spingarn Library. The “Index to Biographies” has been published as an appendix to the Dictionary Catalog of the Jesse E. Moorland Collection of Negro Life and History (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1970), vol. 9, pp. 607–850.
AME Bishop and historiographer Richard R. Wright, Jr., while editor of the Christian Recorder, published a “Who’s Who in the General Conference” in the years 1912, 1920, 1924, 1928, 1932, and 1936. Some of these were published in the pages of the Recorder and some (such as the one for the 1924 General Conference) were published as separate volumes. Wright’s Centennial Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia: Book Concern of the AME Church, 1916), and his Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia: Book Concern of the AME Church, 1947) are indispensable for biographies of AME clergymen. For information on AME bishops, R. R. Wright, Jr., The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, Tenn.: AME Sunday School Union, 1963), is the standard source. Louise M. Rountree compiled an Index to Biographical Sketches and Publications of the Bishops of the AMEZ Church (Salisbury, N.C.: Carnegie Library, Livingstone College, 1960; rev. ed., 1963), which may be helpful.
The many black newspapers published during the period constitute rich but largely untapped source of information on black churches. Nearly one third of the 467 newspapers listed in Warren Brown, Check List of Negro Newspapers in the United States 1827–1946 (Jefferson City, Mo.: School of Journalism, Lincoln University, 1946), were being published during the 1920s and 30s. Church news was reported in great detail in the black papers, and one can find lists of sermon topics, reports of regular church activities, information concerning special events, and full particulars on regional and national as well as local denominational meetings. Perhaps the single best collection of black newspapers is described in Neil E. Strache et al., comps., Black Periodicals and Newspapers: A Union List of Holdings in Libraries of the University of Wisconsin and the Library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1979). Under the able leadership of James P. Danky, Newspapers and Periodicals Librarian at the State Historical Society, these two institutions have aggressively searched for and microfilmed holdings of black newspapers around the country. The State Historical Society is willing to make its microfilm available on inter-library loan.
The main problem in using newspapers, of course, is the difficulty of access to specific information being sought. One extraordinary aid is James de T. Abajian, Blacks in Selected Newspapers, Censuses, and Other Sources: an Index to Names and Subjects (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977). This three-volume guide contains over 100,000 references culled from newspapers, periodicals, directories, books, census records, pamphlets, and other sources. An important limitation is that many of these sources are indexed selectively; nevertheless, it is an invaluable starting point for identifying obscure individuals and topics.
Another means of access to black newspapers is the newspaper clipping file begun by Monroe N. Work, Director of the Department of Records and Research at Tuskegee Institute. Work subscribed to a very large number of black newspapers (both religious and secular) and these were dated, clipped and pasted onto cards and arranged by year and subject (e.g., Church, Foreign Missions, Racial Consciousness, etc.). The entire collection has been microfilmed and is available from University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Schomburg Clipping File assembled at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library (also available on microfilm) is primarily a newspaper and periodical clipping file, but it also contains transcripts, broadsides, pamphlets, programs, book reviews, and ephemera of all kinds. Although the original file is no longer extant, it is available on 9,500 microfiche from Chadwyck-Healey, Inc., Teaneck, New Jersey. The use of this collection for African-American religious history is described in the Newsletter 7, no. 1 (fall 1982): 9–10. Two other clipping files, in notebook form, should be mentioned: the Alexander Gumby Collection on the American Negro (140 folio volumes), now on microfilm and available from the Department of Special Collections, Butler Library, Columbia University; and the Peabody Room Clippings (about 300 octavo volumes), Collis P. Huntington Memorial Library, Hampton Institute.
A valuable newspaper for this period is Marcus Garvey’s Negro World, the official publication of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, published between 1918 and 1933. The paper is of use for the history of the black church by virtue of the fact that verbatim texts of speeches delivered at Harlem’s Liberty Hall (the main headquarters of UNIA activity) were regularly published following each Sunday meeting. Many of the prominent or rising churchmen of the day, including later CME Bishop William Yancey Bell; the widow of Bishop Alexander Walters, Lelia Coleman Walters; Dr. William W. Lucas, Field Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church; AME missionary Emily Christmas Kinch; and Baptist clergymen Willis W. Brown, Junius C. Austin and William H. Moses, gave speeches and sermons whose full texts may be found in the pages of the Negro World. Each Sunday a sermon or sermonette by such individuals, or by the Chaplain-General of the UNIA, was delivered prior to the featured speaker of the evening. Biographical sketches of nearly a dozen of these prominent religious leaders, along with texts of sermons and speeches they delivered on behalf of the UNIA, are published in Burkett, Black Redemption. The successive volumes of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, edited by Robert Hill et al., (the first three volumes of which have been published by the University of California Press, 1983, 1984) contain extensive biographical annotations identifying clergy associated with the UNIA.
Also valuable, of course, are newspapers of the black religious press. An unannotated list of black religious periodicals and serials, with library locations, is found in Appendix I of Ethel L. Williams and Clifton F. Brown, Afro-American Religious Studies: A Comprehensive Bibliography with Locations in American Libraries (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1972). Copies of many of these papers are not readily available, though some collections have been or are currently being microfilmed.
For blacks within the white denominations, an exceptional resource is the Church Advocate, edited by black Episcopal priest, George Freeman Bragg. This newspaper contains a treasure trove of information on the history of black Episcopal churches, biographical sketches of the clergy, and reports on the Conference of Church Workers Among Colored People, a caucus of black Episcopal clergy organized in 1883. Bound volumes of the Advocate for the years 1907–24 are held by General Theological Seminary, New York City. Later issues for the period 1936–40 (when the paper had become primarily a parish organ for Bragg’s St. James First African Episcopal Church, Baltimore) are located in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore. The Southwest Christian Advocate, after 1940 the Central Christian Advocate, was the influential voice of blacks within the Methodist Episcopal Church. Its editors were often eventually elected to the bishopric. . . .
The AME newspaper, the Christian Recorder is not available on microfilm for this period, although bound copies for the years 1926–30 are located at the Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta. The ATLA Micro-Text Project has filmed the AME Zion Church’s Star of Zion for the years 1884–1970. The CME paper Christian Index is in process of being filmed by University Microfilms, but only for the years 1867–1906. A nearly complete run of the National Baptist Voice is located at the Sunday School Publishing Board offices in Nashville, Tenn. (NBC, USA, Inc.), but it has not been filmed. Issues of the Georgia Baptist, official publication of the General Missionary Baptist Convention, for the late twenties, are located at Atlanta University.
Also available on microfilm is an important primary source for Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement, his official newspaper, the New Day. Early issues of Divine’s first newspaper, the World Echo, are on microfilm at the Minnesota Historical Society.
Periodicals, Conference/Convention Journals, Reports, Minutes
As is the case with newspapers, periodicals, conference and convention journals, reports and minutes are extremely valuable, although the problem of accessibility persists. An indispensable guide to periodical articles on black religious history published during this period is to be found in the Chicago Afro-American Union Analytic Catalog (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1972). Originated as a WPA project, the catalog, in addition to providing a guide to the African-Americana holdings of ten libraries in the Chicago area, also includes “analytical indexing of information on the Negro found in over 1,000 foreign and domestic journals from the late 1800s through 1940.” A spot check uncovered some 490 entries under the subject heading “Church,” and there are, for instance, thirty-eight articles by or about George E. Haynes, Secretary of the Commission on the Church and Race Relations of the Federal Council of Churches; eighteen articles by or about AME Bishop R. R. Wright, Jr., and thirteen entries for Presbyterian clergyman Francis J. Grimké.
Two collections are to be noted as especially important for missionary materials. The best collection of denominational periodicals and reports concerning foreign missions activities of all religious organizations is retained by the Missionary Research Library, which has now been integrated with the holdings of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Volume 17 of the Dictionary Catalog of the Missionary Research Library (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1968), provides a guide to holdings of periodicals and reports retained at Union. This offers the most ready record of foreign and home mission reports as well as voluminous other materials related to the history of the black churches in our period. Effective in 1976, the main Missionary Research Library Catalog was closed for books, and all materials received are now entered in the catalog of Union Theological Seminary Library. The MRL Catalog remains open, however, for all serials, including periodicals and reports. (Researchers are cautioned that the published catalog by G. K. Hall is not definitive with respect to serials holdings acquired since 1967, including older materials which have been added to complete back files.)
Yale Divinity School has, as a part of its Day Missions Library, a number of missionary publications from black denominations, including bound volumes of the AME Zion’s Missionary Seer for 1925 and 1929 to date; and a nearly complete run of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.’s Mission Herald, 1923 to date. The library also retains a substantial number of annual home and/or foreign mission board reports for the various denominations.
For blacks in the various white denominations, periodicals, journals and reports must be sought at the archival centers for the denomination as a whole, though the black colleges sponsored by such denominations may on occasion provide a special collection of black materials. Roland E. Wolseley, The Black Press, U.S.A. (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1971), identifies two magazines useful for the study of black Catholics: the Colored Harvest, later the Josephite Harvest, of Baltimore, published by the Josephite Fathers, and Our Colored Missions of New York City. (He also takes note of the Seventh-Day Adventist publication, Message, though it is not evident when this journal began publication.)
The most likely locations for black denominational periodicals and conference journals, reports and minutes are the denominational headquarters, seminaries and colleges of the various organizations, along with the major research collections of the Schomburg, Howard, Fisk, and Atlanta.3
Wilberforce University (plus adjacent Payne Theological Seminary and Central State University), Xenio, Ohio, probably have the largest collection of AME materials for the period, including many annual reports. A complete run of the AME Church Review for the 1920s and 30s is also available there. Livingstone College and Hood Theological Seminary (along with the new Heritage House, which contains the recently acquired papers of Bishop William J. Walls and a portion of the papers of Bishop Stephen G. Spottswood), Salisbury, North Carolina, are the primary location for periodicals, official reports, and conference journals for the AME Zion Church. Louise M. Rountree, The American Negro and African Studies: A Bibliography on the Special Collections in Carnegie Library, Livingstone College (Salisbury, N.C., 1969), is a guide to their holdings. Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee, (founded 1882) is the oldest college established by the Christian (formerly Colored) Methodist Episcopal Church. Although not personally examined by the authors, the library and archives serve as a major repository for materials related to the history of this denomination.
For Baptist material, the best starting point for research is the American Baptist Historical Collection, on the campus of Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Rochester, New York. In addition to excellent runs of annual conference reports of various black Baptist conventions, the society has important collections such as the printed and manuscript records of the Negro Auxiliary, New York City Baptist Educational Center, 1926–50. The Historical Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, in Nashville, Tennessee, has been aggressive in filming printed records, especially annual conference journals, minutes, and newspapers of all predominately black denominations. These may be purchased or borrowed on inter-library loan. For a listing of black Baptist sources on microfilm available, see the Newsletter 9, no. 1 (fall 1984): 5–7.
The indispensable general guide to manuscripts is Walter Schatz, ed., Directory of Afro-American Resources (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1970). It offers a detailed guide to 5,365 collections of resource materials in 2,108 institutions throughout the United States.
Among published guides to specific manuscript collections, some of the most useful are: . . .
The National Archives for black Women’s History, located in Washington, D.C., has become a major repository for materials on black women. Records of the National Council of Negro Women are now available for research, as are a portion of the papers of Mary McLeod Bethune. (Other Bethune papers are located at the Amistad Research Center, New Orleans. See below.) Many of the women involved in the National Council were active in their churches; indeed, for many, this was but an extension of their church work.
Two important manuscript collections, now available on microfilm, contain correspondence from a substantial number of clergy. They are “The Papers of W. E. B. Du Bois” (89 reels of microfilm, available from University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Mich.); and “The Papers of the NAACP,” especially “Part 2: Personal Correspondence of Selected NAACP Officials 1919–1939” (20 reels, available from University Publications of America, Inc., Frederick, Md.). Access to the former collection is enhanced by Robert W. McDonnell’s separately published The Papers of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Guide (Sanford, N.C.: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1981). One of the most important collections of manuscripts dealing with twentieth-century African-American history, the Claude A. Barnett Papers, is located at the Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Ill. Barnett was founder and director of the Associated Negro Press, and papers include Barnett’s voluminous correspondence from the early 1930s to his death in the early 60s. Because of the immense influence he wielded over black news media, protagonists in controversies spanning our period were eager to explain their positions to Barnett. Some 13 boxes of correspondence, a small percent of the total, deal directly with “Religion.” Letters are included from individuals such as Baptists Lacey K. Williams, Joseph H. Jackson, Junius C. Austin, Gardiner Taylor, Martin Luther King, Jr.; AME bishops S. L. Greene, John A. Gregg, Frederick D. Jordan, Decatur W. Nichols, Reverdy C. Ransom, Frank M. Reid, Henry Y. Tookes, D. O. Walker, Noah A. Williams, R. R. Wright, Jr.; and AME Zionites W. H. Davenport, William J. Walls, G. C. Clements, J. W. Eichelberger, B. C. Robeson, C. C. Alleyne, H. T. Medford, H. B. Shaw, and J. W. Martin. An extensive run of the complete texts of Associated Negro Press releases are also part of this valuable collection. Happily, this entire collection is being filmed by University Publications of America, Inc. Part One, consisting of ANP press releases, 1928–64, is now available.4
The Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, is a library/archive which collects and makes available to research scholars source materials on the history of America’s ethnic minorities, race relations and civil rights. The Center is distinguished not only by its excellent holdings but also by the exceptional bibliographic control of those collections. Extensive scope notes and biographical notes, calenders, indexes, and even item cataloging of some collections, facilitate access to materials. The Center holds the records of 34 local, regional, and national institutions and organizations and private papers of 159 individuals and families. These total approximately 8,000,000 manuscript pieces, most of which relate to the history of black Americans, but also include materials on Native Americans, Chicanos, Puerto-Ricans and Oriental Americans. Many of the collections are rich sources for studying African-American religious history. Holdings are especially strong for records of black Congregational and Presbyterian clergy, but the collection is by no means limited to these. A sample of personal papers held by Amistad include the following: George Edmund Haynes (1880–1960), Roland Tillman Heacock (1893–1972), Robert Elijah Jones (1872–1960), Henry Hugh Proctor (1868–1933), James Herman Robinson (1907–1972), Stephen Gill Spottswood (1897–1974), J. Taylor Stanley (1898–1984), and John Lee Tilley (1898–1971).
The Church Records Project of the Historical Records Survey, conducted under auspices of the Works Progress Administration between 1935 and 1942, constitutes an important source of information on individual black churches throughout the country. Survey forms, which are usually deposited in state libraries or state archives, contain a wealth of information for the scholar. In addition to listing the location of minute books, registers of baptisms, marriages, members and deaths, financial and other records, the forms give the date of organization of the church, its first settled clergy and his or her tenure and educational background, plus a brief history of the church. Sometimes unpublished or locally published histories or directories are also filed with the reports. Records for thirty-eight states plus the District of Columbia survive, and these are identified in Loretta L. Hofner, comp., The WPA Historical Records Survey: A Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes, and Transcripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1980).
Important manuscript collections for the study of the major black denominations include . . . the rich Nannie H. Burroughs Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. . . .
The single largest collection of materials concerning black Catholics is to be found in the Archives of the Saint Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart in Baltimore, Maryland. Manuscript collections of many of the Josephite Fathers (especially John T. Gillard), transcriptions of taped interviews with Josephites, along with a rich collection of pamphlets, books and magazines form the bulk of the archives.
An important manuscript collection, the “Papers of the African Orthodox Church of South Africa, and of Its Founder, Daniel William Alexander,” has been acquired by Pitts Theological Library, Emory University. Alexander was consecrated as bishop by McGuire in the United States in 1927. The Papers contain important information on relations between the American and the South African churches, along with detailed records of the church in South Africa, which had a profound impact on black nationalist movements throughout the African continent. On Alexander, see Richard Newman’s essay, “Archbishop Daniel William Alexander and the African Orthodox Church,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 16 (1983): 615–30.
1. A useful resource for the pursuit of such a study is Thomas R. Frazier, “An Analysis of Social Scientific Writing on American Negro Religion” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1967), the findings of which are also summarized and to some extent updated in his “Changing Perspectives in the Study of Afro-American Religion,” Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center 6, no. 1 (fall 1978): 51–68. The author of these studies is, however, concerned to classify the literature by viewpoint in relation to a four-fold typology of “acculturation,” “assimilation,” “functionalism theory and analysis” and “racial pluralism” rather than to carry out a re-analysis of their findings in the manner proposed here. [return to text]
2. This newsletter, edited by the Randall K. Burkett, regularly publishes bibliographies, summaries of recently-acquired or acquisitioned manuscript collections, queries and notes on work in progress, book reviews and other items of interest to those working in the field of African-American religious history. [return to text]
3. It should be noted that some 652 reels of microfilm of the Trevor-Arnett Library, Atlanta University, titled “The Black Culture Collection,” have been compiled and may be available regionally to researchers. Many items of interest for black religious history are reproduced, including some conference journals and religious periodicals. The collection’s usefulness is considerably enhanced by the extensive subject, author, title and reel indices, which are published as separate volumes. Single reels may be purchased. [return to text]
4.For an overview of the ANP, see Lawrence D. Hogan, A Black National News Source: The Associated Negro Press and Claude Barnett 1919–1945 (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984). [return to text]