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From the New York Times-bestselling author of Stony the Road and one of our most important voices on the African-American experience, a powerful new history of the Black church in America as the Black community's abiding rock and its fortress. The companion book to the upcoming PBS series. For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, segregated West Virginia From the New York Times-bestselling author of Stony the Road and one of our most important voices on the African-American experience, a powerful new history of the Black church in America as the Black community's abiding rock and its fortress. The companion book to the upcoming PBS series. For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, segregated West Virginia town, the church was his family and his community's true center of gravity. Within those walls, voices were lifted up in song to call forth the best in each other, and to comfort each other when times were at their worst. In this book, his tender and magisterial reckoning with the meaning of the Black church in American history, Gates takes us from his own experience onto a journey across more than four hundred years and spanning the entire country. At road's end, we emerge with a new understanding of the centrality of the Black church to the American story--as a cultural and political force, as the center of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, as an unparalleled incubator of talent, and as a crucible for working through the community's most important issues, down to today. In a country that has historically afforded its citizens from the African diaspora tragically few safe spaces, the Black church has always been more than a sanctuary; it's been a place to nourish the deepest human needs and dreams of the African-American community. This fact was never lost on white supremacists: from the earliest days of slavery, when enslaved people were allowed to worship at all, their meeting houses were subject to surveillance, and often destruction. So it continued, long after slavery's formal eradication; church burnings and church bombings by the Ku Klux Klan and others have always been a hallmark of the violent effort to suppress the struggle for equality for the African-American community. The past often isn't even past--Dylann Roof committed his slaughter in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church 193 years after the church was first burned down by whites following a thwarted slave rebellion. But as Gates brilliantly shows, the Black church has never been only one thing. Its story lies at the vital center of the civil rights movement, and produced many of its leaders, from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on, but at the same time there have always been churches and sects that eschewed a more activist stance, even eschewed worldly political engagement altogether. That tension can be felt all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of today. Still and all, as a source of strength and a force for change, the Black church is at the center of the action at every stage of the American story, as this enthralling history makes vividly clear.


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From the New York Times-bestselling author of Stony the Road and one of our most important voices on the African-American experience, a powerful new history of the Black church in America as the Black community's abiding rock and its fortress. The companion book to the upcoming PBS series. For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, segregated West Virginia From the New York Times-bestselling author of Stony the Road and one of our most important voices on the African-American experience, a powerful new history of the Black church in America as the Black community's abiding rock and its fortress. The companion book to the upcoming PBS series. For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, segregated West Virginia town, the church was his family and his community's true center of gravity. Within those walls, voices were lifted up in song to call forth the best in each other, and to comfort each other when times were at their worst. In this book, his tender and magisterial reckoning with the meaning of the Black church in American history, Gates takes us from his own experience onto a journey across more than four hundred years and spanning the entire country. At road's end, we emerge with a new understanding of the centrality of the Black church to the American story--as a cultural and political force, as the center of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, as an unparalleled incubator of talent, and as a crucible for working through the community's most important issues, down to today. In a country that has historically afforded its citizens from the African diaspora tragically few safe spaces, the Black church has always been more than a sanctuary; it's been a place to nourish the deepest human needs and dreams of the African-American community. This fact was never lost on white supremacists: from the earliest days of slavery, when enslaved people were allowed to worship at all, their meeting houses were subject to surveillance, and often destruction. So it continued, long after slavery's formal eradication; church burnings and church bombings by the Ku Klux Klan and others have always been a hallmark of the violent effort to suppress the struggle for equality for the African-American community. The past often isn't even past--Dylann Roof committed his slaughter in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church 193 years after the church was first burned down by whites following a thwarted slave rebellion. But as Gates brilliantly shows, the Black church has never been only one thing. Its story lies at the vital center of the civil rights movement, and produced many of its leaders, from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on, but at the same time there have always been churches and sects that eschewed a more activist stance, even eschewed worldly political engagement altogether. That tension can be felt all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of today. Still and all, as a source of strength and a force for change, the Black church is at the center of the action at every stage of the American story, as this enthralling history makes vividly clear.

30 review for The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

  1. 4 out of 5

    Raymond

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. has written a great book on the history of the Black Church in America. This book covers the Black religious tradition from the days of slavery to our current moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Along the way, Gates tells how important the Black Church has been as a source of spiritual renewal and political power for centuries. This book is a historical survey of the Black Church, meaning it covers a lot of broad topics as it relates to the Black American religious exper Henry Louis Gates Jr. has written a great book on the history of the Black Church in America. This book covers the Black religious tradition from the days of slavery to our current moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Along the way, Gates tells how important the Black Church has been as a source of spiritual renewal and political power for centuries. This book is a historical survey of the Black Church, meaning it covers a lot of broad topics as it relates to the Black American religious experience. Many of the topics could and probably have their own standalone books. Gates’s book could have been alot longer, but it does a good job of giving the reader a well researched and thorough examination of the Black Church’s evolution. What makes this book special is that Gates was able to talk to a diverse group of people including celebrities, musical artists, clergy, and religion scholars about the Black Church’s significance. Notable names include: Yolanda Adams, Bishop Michael Curry, Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Kirk Franklin, Bishop T. D. Jakes, John Legend, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Senator Raphael Warnock, Oprah Winfrey, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. One of the important points that Gates makes is that Black enslaved people shaped and adapted Christianity in their own way, not how it was taught to them by white slaveholders. Enslaved people infused African traditions in their version of Christianity that are still with us in some form today, traditions such as the ring shout and spirit possession. Gates also covers the challenges the Black Church faced and continues to face in our current moment. The debate over worship styles (charismatic vs. more mainline) is an ongoing one since the end of the 19th Century; while the prosperity gospel vs liberation theology message is an issue that the Black Church has focused on since the early 20th Century. The influence of secular music on Black gospel music is another point of contention. There was resistance from Black church members of gospel music because of its blues and rock and roll elements. Nowadays there is resistance to gospel music that has a more hip-hop feel to it. Thomas Dorsey and Kirk Franklin were innovators in their respective eras on shifting the boundaries of gospel music for a new generation of Christians. Readers should know that this is mostly a story about Black Christianity in America. There are substantial mentions of Black Muslims during slavery; the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X also are covered but it is not at the same level as Black Christians are discussed. Gates closes his book, in the Epilogue, by discussing the role of the Holy Ghost in the Black Church tradition, specifically the concepts of “getting happy” and “speaking in tongues”. He tells a personal story of his experiences of going to a church where “catching the spirit” was common. Ultimately he makes a verdict about its significance in the Black religious tradition. I enjoyed reading this book especially as someone who grew up in a Black Church. I learned alot of facts I was unfamiliar with before. Readers of Black history, religious studies, and PBS series (this is a companion book to a series by the same name) will enjoy reading this informative work. Thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Press, and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for a free ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on February 16, 2021. Review first published here: https://medium.com/ballasts-for-the-m...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Gates recounts that Black churches began as ‘praise houses’, incorporating African culture in their faith traditions. After Emancipation, the Black church retained its importance in nurturing Black culture and helped to foster political action. The rhythms of Black preaching can be heard in the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. as he fought for Civil Rights in the 60s. Unfortunately, Black churches paid the price for MLK leading the massive March on Washington in 1963. Just three weeks later, t Gates recounts that Black churches began as ‘praise houses’, incorporating African culture in their faith traditions. After Emancipation, the Black church retained its importance in nurturing Black culture and helped to foster political action. The rhythms of Black preaching can be heard in the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. as he fought for Civil Rights in the 60s. Unfortunately, Black churches paid the price for MLK leading the massive March on Washington in 1963. Just three weeks later, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four Black girls. From this bombing in Birmingham to 1964’s Freedom Summer in Mississippi, thirty-seven churches were burned or bombed during a ten-week period. Hence, many Black churches refused to allow the leaders of the civil rights movement to even have services there. Whether it is the Islam faith of Malcolm X or the Christian faith of many civil rights leaders, faith has held a central place in Black culture. Recommend this companion volume to Gates’ new PBS series.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alicia (PrettyBrownEyeReader)

    3.5 I am a product of a Black Church and I greatly admire the work of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Knowing these two things about myself, I thought this book would be a perfect fit for me. My reaction however was different than what I expected. This book is a general overview of what religion has meant to Black Americans since the first Africans arrived on American soil. Approaching the book as an overview is best. There is not a deep exploration into the various denominations that have shaped the B 3.5 I am a product of a Black Church and I greatly admire the work of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Knowing these two things about myself, I thought this book would be a perfect fit for me. My reaction however was different than what I expected. This book is a general overview of what religion has meant to Black Americans since the first Africans arrived on American soil. Approaching the book as an overview is best. There is not a deep exploration into the various denominations that have shaped the Black American religious experience. There are also glaring omissions of religious leaders who have shaped Black American spiritual life. Another drawback of the book for me was that it drew heavily on the work W.E.B. Dubois. It has been over 100 years since Dubois work was published. There are many theologians who have written about Black Church life since Dubois. One of the things I appreciated about the book was the inclusion of the Nation of Islam. Christianity is not the sole belief system of Black Americans and it was nice to have another religion discussed. This book is for someone who wants to have a broad picture of Black American religious experiences. It is also a great book to commemorate the documentary of the same name. Many of the book’s passages are directly from the documentary. For those who want a deeper understanding of the various Black American religious experiences, the book offers an extensive Recommended Readings section that I plan to explore. I was given the opportunity to review an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a revealing, intriguing, and inspiring succinct look at the Black American church, from slavery days to present time. Librarians/booksellers: A PBS documentary of the same name will premiere February 2021. This will likely be in demand. Many thanks to Penguin Group/The Penguin Press and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Howard

    An interesting history of the Black Church in America, and a discussion of the pivotal role the Church has played in Black culture. "In a world of utter instability,  where African American families could be torn apart at a moment's notice, the enslaved found a rock in the religion and practices they developed in communion with one another..." Full review coming for Shelf Awareness. An interesting history of the Black Church in America, and a discussion of the pivotal role the Church has played in Black culture. "In a world of utter instability,  where African American families could be torn apart at a moment's notice, the enslaved found a rock in the religion and practices they developed in communion with one another..." Full review coming for Shelf Awareness.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul Womack

    Just a great introduction to an important part of American Religious history. Combined with the PBS series, just a maevelous overview of sognificant people and their very crucial contributions to America’s cultural ethos.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. beautiful well-researched account of the literal lifeblood of african americans along with relevant period history. "no pillar of african american community has been more central to its history, identity, and social justice vision than the black church. although there is no monolithic black church ... i will use the phrase black church as a way to acknowledge the importance of institutions of organized religion to AA over time. to be sure there is no single black church...the church provided ref beautiful well-researched account of the literal lifeblood of african americans along with relevant period history. "no pillar of african american community has been more central to its history, identity, and social justice vision than the black church. although there is no monolithic black church ... i will use the phrase black church as a way to acknowledge the importance of institutions of organized religion to AA over time. to be sure there is no single black church...the church provided refuge, a place of racial and individual self affirmation, of teaching and learning, of psychological and spiritual sustenance, of prophetic faith, a symbolic space where black people, enslaved and free, could nurture the hope for a better today and a much better tomorrow." WEB Dubois called spiritual hymns "sorrow songs." enslaved africans first arrived to florida area in 1520s. "of the 388k africans shipped directly to NA, 210k shipped to carolinas & georgia. nearly 50% of all africans imported arrived through the port of charleston. accordingly some have termed chas the ellis island of the black enslaved experience." thousands of enslaved muslims lived on sea islands of sc & ga such as sapelo island https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapel... islam was not new to blacks in 1900s. thrrr were legal and societal efforts to exclude slaves from christianity bc religious equality might breed societal equality. additionally slaves intentionally kept illiterate so they couldn't read the bible or earn wages. missionaries were made to exclude portions of the bible that might encourage freedom. sc negro act of 1740 made it illegal to teach enslaved to read, limited ability to assemble, outlawed keeping of horns/drums in places enslaved gathered. the enslaved were creative and found ways to worship and church was called "invisible institution"- worshiping in their cabins, by riverside, etc. they memorized bible passages and set it to music. great awakening: methodists and baptists had theatrical revivals involving whites and enslaved. praise houses served religious and social purposes, and were a transition to large black churches. silver bluff baptist church near aiken sc may have been first black church https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silve... also in augusta https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprin... the methodists declared themselves opposed to slavery and at one time in chas methodist church had 350 whited and 5400 blacks. black harry was illiterate but considered one of the greatest orators of his time. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry... richard allen and absolon jones formed and church https://www.ame-church.com/our-church... other denominations formed in early 1800s. they were not formed on theological differences but racial differences. women had no place in the pulpit. international slave trade closed 1808. in 1844 methodist church split into northern and southern over the issue of slavery, specifically over whether bishop could own a slave. in 1830s roman catholic church rejected slavery but many catholics owned slaves despite the church doctrine. jesuits owned enslaved people in 1800s- the church sold 272 enslaved people for a huge sum of money. church's role was hypocritical. denmark vesey was executed in chas on the allegation that he was planning slave uprising and plan to rape white women (though it doesn't sound like this was the case). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denma... fugitive slave act of 1850 led enslaved to realize that freedom would come at a huge cost https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugit... lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation in 1863 stating "That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free" - confirmation that God has heard them. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanc... in 1865 black religious leaders met w general sherman in savannah to say formerly enslaved needed land as they had shed blood sweat tears on land they didn't own. thus sherman land (40 acre lots) but or was an empty promise as after lincoln's assassination pres andrew johnson pardoned thousands of white planters and the ownership was elusive. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forty... peen school on st helena island sc opened 1862 as the first school for formerly enslaved. http://www.penncenter.com/explore-pen... mother emanuel was the first ame church in south, and building began in 1865 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanu... frederick douglas once said slavery isn't abolished until the black man has the ballot. the 15th amendment ratified 1870 gave black men the right to vote but left out women. but it would be several decades until this right was secure. richard harvey cain mother emanuel minister became first black clergyman to become us house of rep elected 1872. in 1870 first blacks were elected. the frenzy or feeling that one has become overcome by the spirit associated with motor movements led to pentecostal holiness. versions of speaking in tongues has been a long-standing part of black religion. rosetta tharp, member of cogic, was shamed by church for playing gospel music in night clubs. tension between sat night & sun am. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siste... elijah mohammed founded nation of islam, which blames whites as the problem. NOI had targeted recruitment, focused on those struggling most. southern blacks didn't see success until civil rights movement in 1960s. mlk jr came from family of preachers serving at ebenezer baptist in atl. he shared pulpit w his dad 1960 until assassination in 1968. bus boycott catapulted him to center of civil rights movement. at march for freedom in 1963 for jobs and freedom mahalia jackson called out "tell them about the dream martin." malcolm x emerged in 1960s also son of baptist preacher but rejected christianity and converted to islam in prison. he said any means necessary could be justified to maintain black liberation. he was close to billie holiday and enjoyed music. he was not polar opposite of mlk jr though most contrast them. he left NOI in 1964. he began voter regis drives and influenced elections. "jim crow laws, poll taxes, literacy tests, & violent terror tactics blocked AA access to full citizenship despite guarantees of 15th & 19th amendments..." black churches fueled belief that white supremacy could be smashed. in 1964 freedom summer in mississippi 37 churches were burned or bombed in 10wks. mlk jr awarded nobel peace prize that summer. lyndon b johnson in 1965 signed voting rights act, safeguarding sanctity of rights for all americans. mlk jr attended signing but realized implementation would be key. mlk jr used his christianity to seek a just nation. he came out publicly against vietnam war. assassination of mlk jr brought civil rights movement to a halt. women began to enroll in seminary in 1960s - why was church that struggled for freedom continuing to oppress some of its members? in his race speech, obama renounced pastor wright from his church in 2008 https://www.npr.org/templates/story/s... in 2012 he came out in support of gay marriage and many in the black church review the death of eric garner https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killi... in june 2015 dylan roof destroyed denmark vesey's mother emanuel https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dylan... obama during the eulogy said we don't know whether the killer knew all of the rich history of mother emanuel but he compelled the sc legislature to lower the confederate flag. the author walks through the disparities in rates of infection and death in covid19. many churches however became sites of testing, voter registration, etc. ahmaud arbery was shot while jogging https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killi... thankfully christian cooper's fate was not the same https://www.google.com/amp/s/abcnews.... george floyd was killed after saying he couldn't breathe even after ems arrived after a store clerk alleged he used a counterfeit $20 bill https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg... let's not forget in louisville ky 3 plain clothed officers broke down the door using a battering ram on the false premise that her apt was the hub of a drug ring and shot her boyfriend 8x though they initially reported her bf fired first, that her bf suffered no injuries, that they faced no resistance entering, that they identified themselves as police. on 7/3/21 declared BLM maybe largest movement in us history - 15-26M people participated in >4700 protests averaging 140 per day following floyd's murder. nearly 95% counties that recently protested were majority white, representing a major shift compared to civil rights movement. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoot... sharpton delivered eulogy at floyd's funeral in the familiar language of the black church. he also recognized eric garner, travon martin, ahmaud arbery. he called for protests. 5 stars. a little about the author https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry....

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    THE BLACK CHURCH is bestselling author and noted scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s written accompaniment to his PBS series of the same name. Here, he offers a wide panorama of history and hope underpinning the gradual development of religion in its myriad forms among Black Americans. The majority of slaves brought to the new colonies were not expected to adopt the religion of the colonists. In fact, doing so would have placed their owners in an untenable position, since slavery is against Christia THE BLACK CHURCH is bestselling author and noted scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s written accompaniment to his PBS series of the same name. Here, he offers a wide panorama of history and hope underpinning the gradual development of religion in its myriad forms among Black Americans. The majority of slaves brought to the new colonies were not expected to adopt the religion of the colonists. In fact, doing so would have placed their owners in an untenable position, since slavery is against Christian tenets. To justify keeping them out of white religion and in chains, it was stressed that Africans were inherently inferior. So no teaching was done, which explains why, once Black houses of worship sprang up, they also served as schools. Some slaves were converts to Catholicism, largely in Spanish-dominated Florida. And some, mainly in coastal South Carolina, brought Islamic beliefs that would later resurface in such guises as the Nation of Islam, which countered the notion of white supremacy with the idea of white people as inferior, as the enemy. Most slaves carried within them their African traditions, in which worship was a shared experience, featuring such phenomena as response singing, dancing and circle shouts that became an integral part of African American worship. Gates fairly and objectively shows how Black churches have incorporated both African traditions and highly advanced, almost visionary concepts of tolerance and freedom in the face of overt and subtle racism. His story of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, illustrates the daunting path that Black people have had to tread in their thirst for the salvation that they so clearly perceived in the person of Jesus. Built in 1817 as the first official Black denominational institution, it was burned by whites a few years later, rebuilt by Blacks after the Civil War, and in 2015 became the scene of a massacre of nine innocent parishioners by a rabid young white supremacist. Gates asserts that Black churches have generally required their members to hold fast to faith through conversion, followed by lifelong commitment, citing his youthful experiences as an example. Bringing the history up to the present, he notes that women have gained more power in the Black church hierarchy, issues such as LGBTQ+ rights have yet to be resolved, and Obama’s presidency moved the churches a step forward. This past year of COVID-19 undeniably has had some negative effects: the proportions of Black people with the virus, the inability to perform community outreach or meet together in what often can be highly interactive Sunday services, and the upsurge in white violence against African Americans. Still, hopes run high for a continuation and expansion of what Gates thinks of as “the space where our direct cultural ties to Africa come to life in new and mutated but still recognizable form…the place where we made a way out of no way.” Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I watched the PBS series of the same name. I enjoy Henry Louis Gates Jr. as he shares his knowledge, so well-researched here and on the Finding Your Roots series also. Although I belong to a church, in most cases, I consider religion to be an accident of birth. I have long admired those who possess that deep faith. One of the most moving religious services I have attended was a MLK tribute in a local, historically black church. I liked the music, the sermons, and the welcoming atmosphere. I like I watched the PBS series of the same name. I enjoy Henry Louis Gates Jr. as he shares his knowledge, so well-researched here and on the Finding Your Roots series also. Although I belong to a church, in most cases, I consider religion to be an accident of birth. I have long admired those who possess that deep faith. One of the most moving religious services I have attended was a MLK tribute in a local, historically black church. I liked the music, the sermons, and the welcoming atmosphere. I liked that participants/attendees moved around and talked, even during the service, something that I learned was verbotten in my church. This book is structured much like the PBS series, with the voices of "experts", past and present. Although the book is structured with time consecutive chapters, the narrative moved back and forth, sometimes repetitively. At times, both during the tv series, and the book, I found my mind wandering and skipping over parts. I appreciated the parallels drawn between the slave experience, then the freedom movement, and Moses in the bible. I have mixed feelings about the lack of separation between church and politics. I understand that the church is a place of refuge, and often a place where participants can receive the services not available to them (as they should be) by government. (It was likely the same for my immigrant grandparents, though they came to the U.S. of their own free will.) I had never thought about the traditional roles of women in the black church - they are the church's backbone, but, perhaps until recently, with no leadership roles. The black church is many-faceted. As perhaps with other religious organizations, the times demand that the black church must evolve if it is going survive. Spirituals project common humanity. "It's hard to hate somebody if you can hum their music." (69) Summed up in the epilogue: "The Black Church is the space where our direct cultural ties to Africa come to life in new and mutated but still reconizable form. It's that cultural space in which we can bathe freely in the comfort of our cultural heritage, and where everyone knows their part, and where everyone can judge everyone else's performance of their part, often out loud with amens, with laughter, with clapping, or with silence. It's the space we created to find rest in the gathering storm. It's the place where we made a way out of no way. It's the place to which, after a long and wearisome journey, we can return and find rest before we cross the river." (219)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Craig Amason

    Anyone who has any sense of back history in America knows how important religious belief and practice have been in the struggles against bondage, oppression, discrimination, and injustice. Gates does a fine job of providing a chronology of how faith and communal worship thrived among African Americans, even during the dark days of slavery. But he goes further to explore how African Americans adopted the faith of their oppressors, primarily Protestant Christianity, and made it their own. He makes Anyone who has any sense of back history in America knows how important religious belief and practice have been in the struggles against bondage, oppression, discrimination, and injustice. Gates does a fine job of providing a chronology of how faith and communal worship thrived among African Americans, even during the dark days of slavery. But he goes further to explore how African Americans adopted the faith of their oppressors, primarily Protestant Christianity, and made it their own. He makes a strong case for how the black church came to understand how the suffering and rejection of its members mirrored that of Jesus and how African Americans ultimately began to see Christ reflected in their own image, articulated in the term the Negro Jesus. It's no wonder that Gates uses much of his book to discuss the importance of music to the black church, finding its origins deeply rooted in African religion and culture. Most of the original musical forms to come out of America -- gospel, jazz, R&B, hip hop -- have their genesis in the black church inspired by ancient African artistic expression. Gates also examines the conflicts between church leaders and musical composers and performers who took their music outside the walls of the sanctuary to secular venues, which ultimately resulted in an expansion of religious themes in popular music and crossover to larger, mainstream white performers and audiences. Thankfully, Gates doesn't limit his look at black religion to Christianity and does give a bit of attention to Islam and its adherents among African Americans, with Malcolm X being the most notable among them. He follows the evolution of the black church up to contemporary evangelists with megachurches and tremendous influence. This book is more of an introduction than an in-depth study of the topic, but I believe Gates hits all the major points of how religion has played such a central role in the endurance of African Americans fighting to overcome incredible obstacles of enslavement and caste in the U.S.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I have so much respect for Henry Louis Gates Jr, so when he wrote "The Black Church: This is our Story, This is Our Song", I knew I had to read it. In this book, Gates explores the very long history of the Black Church, in all its versions, and in all its beautiful complexity. Gates researched this book thoroughly, and it is evident, and he discusses the various forms of religion that African people brought over from Africa, when they were kidnapped and enslaved. Religion served as a crucial comp I have so much respect for Henry Louis Gates Jr, so when he wrote "The Black Church: This is our Story, This is Our Song", I knew I had to read it. In this book, Gates explores the very long history of the Black Church, in all its versions, and in all its beautiful complexity. Gates researched this book thoroughly, and it is evident, and he discusses the various forms of religion that African people brought over from Africa, when they were kidnapped and enslaved. Religion served as a crucial component of the black experience back then, as it still does to this day. In one of the great ironies outlined in the book, Gates discusses how white people wanted to bring African slaves within the folds of Christianity. However, in doing so, they taught the slaves about the exodus of the Jews from slavery. This key story served as inspiration for later anti-slavery agitation within the slave community. Gates does a wonderful job showing how the black church influenced not only the black community, but also all of America, through the tireless work of so many community leaders. Gates includes pictures of 70 of them in the book. As the decades and centuries passed, the Black Church evolved, responding to the various crises of the day, culminating with the interplay of the Black Church with the Black Lives Matter movement. I thought that, while explaining the long struggle for freedom in the black community, Gates might mention his own 2009 arrest controversy, but he does not. Overall, Gates' book is an inspiring work of nonfiction that will make you appreciate the Black Church all the more. This book infuses the reader, regardless of race, with a proud sense of history, uplifting and hopeful all the same. I definitely recommend this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joel Wentz

    Gates has provided an extremely-readable one-volume account of the black church in America, tracing its roots in the midst of American chattel slavery up through the present day. This book is surprisingly slim, for covering such a wide swath of history (though that's also part of the limitation of his account) and contains many genuinely insightful and enjoyable sections. One thing that sets this book apart, and that surprised me, is the way Gates incorporates comments from his own interviews wit Gates has provided an extremely-readable one-volume account of the black church in America, tracing its roots in the midst of American chattel slavery up through the present day. This book is surprisingly slim, for covering such a wide swath of history (though that's also part of the limitation of his account) and contains many genuinely insightful and enjoyable sections. One thing that sets this book apart, and that surprised me, is the way Gates incorporates comments from his own interviews with many prominent black intellectuals, pastors and musicians regarding their own experiences growing up in the black church. These give the book more of an "oral history" flavor, rather than a strict academic account, and make it even more enjoyable to read. Two chapters, in particular, really stood out to me. His account of the impact of the "Great Migration" on the culture of black churches in Northern cities, especially in the styles of prayer and worship, was fascinating, especially how he connects it to the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the following decades. That chapter, for me, contained the most insightful historical work. Secondly, the epilogue chapter, which is essentially a testimony/memoir of Gates' own experiences in the black church growing up, is spectacular. It's beautifully composed, honest and vulnerable, and a wonderful addition to the book. Overall, this is a great, enjoyable, insightful book that provides readers with a solid historical overview of an important American institution. His account is nuanced and informed. I only wish a was bit longer, honestly, and more developed in parts. But a great read and an easy recommendation.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...

    Other than reading my biggest hobby is genealogy/family history. So, over the years, I have found a deep admiration for Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He is warm, intelligent, compassionate, insightful. And when I saw this book I immediately requested it from the publisher who generously sent a beautiful finished copy in exchange for my honest review. I have not yet watched the PBS series and am hopeful that it will add to my understanding of this topic. The Black Church informs the reader about the impa Other than reading my biggest hobby is genealogy/family history. So, over the years, I have found a deep admiration for Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He is warm, intelligent, compassionate, insightful. And when I saw this book I immediately requested it from the publisher who generously sent a beautiful finished copy in exchange for my honest review. I have not yet watched the PBS series and am hopeful that it will add to my understanding of this topic. The Black Church informs the reader about the impact of religion -- both Christian and Muslim -- on Black Americans. The church here is not referencing any particular religion, congregation or the leaders of either. Rather this takes a broader approach showing how religion as a general concept has helped to inform the culture of Black Americans today. Some of my favorite parts were the chapters that discussed slaves and how they adopted the religions they did. I had -- wrongfully -- assumed that slaves were forced to adopt the religion of the whites who claimed ownership. This book pointed out that the white people wanted to keep them out of their religions, so that they could justify keeping them in the bounds of slavery. Houses of worship came about because the slaves wanted them. This was their only way of celebrating God's existence, of teaching children, of singing praise. Slaves in Spanish-dominated Florida often became Catholics (another surprise for me). There was so much information in this book that I often felt a bit overwhelmed by my own ignorance. For this reason I am certain to read it again after I watch the PBS series.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jo Stafford

    The Black Church is an excellent overview of the history of African American Christianity and the crucial role of the Black church in providing a safe cultural space for African Americans and in pressing for racial justice. Three points leapt out at me: the retention of African cultural practices; the ways in which African American people adapted white Christianity to their own needs and created unique institutions in the process; the importance of Islam in the lives of many enslaved people. In The Black Church is an excellent overview of the history of African American Christianity and the crucial role of the Black church in providing a safe cultural space for African Americans and in pressing for racial justice. Three points leapt out at me: the retention of African cultural practices; the ways in which African American people adapted white Christianity to their own needs and created unique institutions in the process; the importance of Islam in the lives of many enslaved people. In his epilogue, Henry Louis Gates makes the case that talking in tongues while in the grip of the Holy Spirit’s power may be an African retention, providing a perspective I’d not encountered before. One of the book’s strengths is the extent to which Gates weaves Black music into the narrative, the dance between secular and sacred musical forms, in Gates’ memorable description, “that long and controversial tradition of Saturday night sneaking into the church on Sunday morning”. Take note of the book’s subtitle, This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song. The Black Church is a celebration of the story and of the song. Clocking in at fewer than 250 pages of text, I was sorry that the celebration wasn’t longer.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peacejanz

    There is also a video by this same name, written by the same author. Gates is a scholar so this book has footnotes, recommended readings, lists, photos, appendices. My meaning is that is a solid book, not one to slide through in a couple of hours. I am an old Southern woman and I thought that I knew a lot about the black church in the USA. I never thought through that the slaves were captured in Africa - northern Africa for the most part - and they were Muslim. Plus they did not understand Engli There is also a video by this same name, written by the same author. Gates is a scholar so this book has footnotes, recommended readings, lists, photos, appendices. My meaning is that is a solid book, not one to slide through in a couple of hours. I am an old Southern woman and I thought that I knew a lot about the black church in the USA. I never thought through that the slaves were captured in Africa - northern Africa for the most part - and they were Muslim. Plus they did not understand English, so the language, the music, the religion they created (often in secret) was not the good old Christian stuff that weighs down the South now. As Gates carefully points out there is NO ONE BLACK church. There are a bunch - sorted by belief, leaders, women workers, and it was not easy to travel to meet, discuss, agree, agree to disagree until at least 100 years after the end of the civil war. His emphasis is on what black people learned on their own, having no schools, not much money to travel, and the KKK and their cohorts. He is careful not to put the blame on white churches or people. This wonderful book tells of the sacrifice and desire to create churches that were meaningful to black folks. Not to mention gospel music. I learned so much.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Henry Louis Gates has provided White America an interesting perspective on the Black Experience. I find his work on PBS particularly interesting because he always frames his work from his gaze as a Black scholar. His series about Black History from Reconstruction until now was very enlightening. Instead of trying to objectify his part of the struggle, when it comes to his era of success, he views his shared success with others of his era. Likewise, in his examination of the Black Church, he does Henry Louis Gates has provided White America an interesting perspective on the Black Experience. I find his work on PBS particularly interesting because he always frames his work from his gaze as a Black scholar. His series about Black History from Reconstruction until now was very enlightening. Instead of trying to objectify his part of the struggle, when it comes to his era of success, he views his shared success with others of his era. Likewise, in his examination of the Black Church, he does not eliminate his own participation. There are several questions that loom when you look at the Black Church. How does the religion of the white society speak out to those who have been enslaved? Why would they even want to participate in the religion of the oppressor? What differeniates the Black church? How powerful is the music? How is the energy different? What did the Black Church provide for the Black society? Gates provides many answers both in the history of the formation, the political significance of the civil rights movements as well as the energy of the music, the holy spirit, the society of social safety, the refuge from Jim Crow. He does an admirable job over a tricky subject.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emily Nilsen

    4.5 but rounded up. Each chapter could have and perhaps should have been treated with a deeper dive (I would have easily read another 100 pages on this subject); however, this was a fascinating overview of the overarching story of the black church through history — how it became a safe place to create and express culture, to build a movement and advance one another, and to spur on social change and activism. Gates does a great job explaining that the black church is not just one thing; he captur 4.5 but rounded up. Each chapter could have and perhaps should have been treated with a deeper dive (I would have easily read another 100 pages on this subject); however, this was a fascinating overview of the overarching story of the black church through history — how it became a safe place to create and express culture, to build a movement and advance one another, and to spur on social change and activism. Gates does a great job explaining that the black church is not just one thing; he captures the nuances, juxtapositions, and unique modifiers that create its essence. He covers theological, historical, sociological, political and emotional forces that have shaped the church over time. There are lots of gems in this book. It is a great primer on the subject but also provides unique insights connecting and providing explanations for certain movements. This one will stay with me. I definitely recommend.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ann Otto

    The Black Church summarizes well the information presented in the PBS series on the topic. Gates presents much new information on the history of various religions brought to America from Africa and the Caribean by slaves, beginning in Florida in the 1500s. He dispels many myths about people of color and their relationship to their religion, their struggles to participate in the American culture over generations, and their resilience, much of which was and continues to be supported by black churc The Black Church summarizes well the information presented in the PBS series on the topic. Gates presents much new information on the history of various religions brought to America from Africa and the Caribean by slaves, beginning in Florida in the 1500s. He dispels many myths about people of color and their relationship to their religion, their struggles to participate in the American culture over generations, and their resilience, much of which was and continues to be supported by black churches in American communities.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

    Having grown up and been around conservative, white churches my entire life, with precious little exposure to other traditions, I am so thankful for this book. I now have an even greater appreciation for how the church works in the lives of so many, and I pray that their efforts will continue to be used by God. I don't have enough knowledge to make a certain assessment, but it came across as a very thorough, well done history and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in learning mo Having grown up and been around conservative, white churches my entire life, with precious little exposure to other traditions, I am so thankful for this book. I now have an even greater appreciation for how the church works in the lives of so many, and I pray that their efforts will continue to be used by God. I don't have enough knowledge to make a certain assessment, but it came across as a very thorough, well done history and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about an important part of American society and history.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Britni

    Solid read. It’s a great summary of different aspects of the black church and all of its intricacies. I feel like this book could have been longer and certain sections could be their own book. It goes into origins, important religious leaders, the church’s role in politics, how Christianity was used to promote both freedom and slavery, etc. It even goes into the evolution of church music from spirituals to jazz and modern gospel. I also liked the parts talking about the different relationship ge Solid read. It’s a great summary of different aspects of the black church and all of its intricacies. I feel like this book could have been longer and certain sections could be their own book. It goes into origins, important religious leaders, the church’s role in politics, how Christianity was used to promote both freedom and slavery, etc. It even goes into the evolution of church music from spirituals to jazz and modern gospel. I also liked the parts talking about the different relationship generations have to the church. Very good read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alia Matala

    3.5 really. Parts 1 & 2 were fascinating and full of important church history. Parts 3 & 4 were really more about society and how the church was or wasn’t engaging, influencing, or changing with it. Wished this was more of a church history book. There are so many theologians, pastors, denominational developments, and docterines/theologies that could have been written about and weren’t. The parts that were about the actual churches though was worth the read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jerrid Kruse

    The way the book follows the institution of the black church throughout the history of the US provides an excellent and important co-narrative of US history. The author does not focus exclusively on the Christian religion, but that is the main focus. The discussions around making God into our own image (e.g., white vs black Jesus) were interesting, but did not explore the historical Jesus, just the ways such a way of thinking interacted with the black church in the US.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Staci Taylor

    I loved learning the history of the Black Church in the US. Gates includes an overview of the various denominations of Christian faiths as well as Islam as influences of Black life and how it has helped uplift those in slavery and being treated as second class citizens to the present day. It was an interesting read as he brings up lgbtq rights, feminism, gospel/hip hop, and infamous leaders like Malcolm x, Dr. King, and Fannie Lou Hamer.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Toni

    Gates tells the story of the Black church, but the story is interwoven with the history of slavery in America as well as abolition, reconstruction, and the civil rights movement. The church and the history are inseparable. I enjoyed listening to this. There is a very long epilogue about the Holy Ghost in the black church that was interesting, but I enjoyed the historical part of the book more.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Scott

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I snacked on parts of this book over several weeks. Having recently viewed Henry Gates 6-part PBS documentary, “Many Rivers To Cross” this book seemed to be the research work for much of the film. The Black religious experience, in Africa, imported to America, and altered through time and experience here make a fascinating clarification of what is special in black community culture.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sam S

    This is not a traditional history book. It is more a love letter to enduring institutions and the people who build them. It was a good reminder that I need to read more about religion and its omnipresent role in US history. Gates is a good writer, which always helps. I found the later chapters, on the AIDS crisis, the rise of Hip Hop, and President Obama, to be especially interesting.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jadon George

    Relentlessly Informative The professor has done it again, weaving exhaustive research and unimpeachable expertise into the broader fabric of American history. While that straightforward approach makes for a premier educational read, it can sometimes blunt the impact of the narrative itself.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nona Thomas

    The book provided a more detailed narrative of The Black Church than the PBS series. It is a "must read" to have an understanding how the church was one of the only institutions that was established by the enslaved and beyond slavery. The Black Church has a religious and political history and a present influence. The book provided a more detailed narrative of The Black Church than the PBS series. It is a "must read" to have an understanding how the church was one of the only institutions that was established by the enslaved and beyond slavery. The Black Church has a religious and political history and a present influence.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    This companion book to the PBS series offers a good, informative overview of the central role of the Black Church in African American history, in social justice and as a support network for a community frequently in need of safe spaces.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Janie

    5 stars: My favorite read this year. This book answered a lot of questions I’ve wondered for decades, but have been afraid to ask. It was short- term sad but long-term hopeful. God is on the side of the oppressed and I have a lot to learn, but I’m here for it.

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