The Journal of Negro History/Volume 7/Number 2/Woodson's The History of the Negro Church

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The History of the Negro Church. By Carter G. Woodson, Ph.D. The Associated Publishers, Inc., Washington, D. C. 1921. Pp. 330.

With due regard for the modern scientific methods of historiography, the author of this book has traced the rise and spread of institutionalized Christianity among American Negroes. He discusses such salient points as the early efforts of white missionaries to evangelize the heathen bondmen, the difficulties which beset their labors, the respective contributions of the white denominations, showing the Baptists in the lead, followed closely by the Methodists, with the Presbyterians, Catholics and Congregationalists in the rear. There are set forth the psychological, geographical and other reasons why the Negro was attracted more readily to the Baptist and Methodist denominations, the causes for the reactions of slave holders for and against the evangelization of the slaves, the rise of Negro preachers of merit in the Baptist and Methodist denominations during the eighteenth century, and the founding of the first churches by Negroes of these sects. Among these he mentions the first African Baptist Church by Andrew Bryan in 1788, the first African Methodist Episcopal Church by Richard Allen in 1794, and the first African Presbyterian Church by John Gloucester in 1807.

The factors which caused the cleavage of the white denominations into North and South, the causes of the separation of the Negro communicants from the whites and the threefold cleavage of the Negro Methodists are adequately discussed. Attention is given also to the increase in the number of churches and the State and national centralization of the churches within the respective denominations. The ante-bellum beginnings of the only Negro education which aimed to develop Negro preachers through instructors of both races, the importance of Negro churches in developing race leaders, educators, and statesmen who figured in the economic, social and political life of the Negro after the war, are ably treated. The book gives an account of the rise of the conservative and progressive elements within the church and closes with a chapter on the present-day Negro church statistics which indicate the enormous spread of Christianity through the ascendancy of the Methodists and Baptists.

One can hardly appreciate the sympathetic and scholarly character of this work from the bald outline given above. Just therein may it be characterized as a pioneer work, a genuine contribution. In a larger sense it is more than the history of the Negro church; it is the very life history of the Negro race in America, so intimately have the spiritual strivings of the Negro been bound up with his sentiments and interests, his habits and endeavors, his situation and circumstances, his monuments and edifices, his poetry and song.

F. C. Sumner