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The movement with churches at its center was actually "a startling departure" and a "miracle," Savage claims, rather than "a natural progression" 2. The most lamentable consequence was "the insistence on black religious uniformity in the face of just the opposite - the enormous diversity of African American religious beliefs and practices both within and outside Christianity" Thomas - of which Savage herself is today an active member - within the predominately white Episcopal Church, and, on the other hand, Richard Allen to found an independent black Methodist tradition illustrate "the historical diversity among black churches, their ambivalent relationship to white American Christianity, and their political natures" 4.

Savage takes her title comes from Robert Hayden's poem, "We Have Not Forgotten," about the faith and hope whereby blacks endured slavery to achieve the possibilities of American democracy and bestowed their strengthening "spirits" to post-emancipation generations who have continued their self-same struggle - right up to the inauguration of Barack Obama. Those "spirits" constitute an historical hagiography of black intellectuals and activists such as W.

Your Spirits Walk Beside Us

Du Bois who as a New England Episcopalian viewed the church as "a spiritual State within a State" 38 , emotional displays in worship as a holdover from Africa and slavery, and the clergy as an obstacle keeping the black church from offering political leadership and economic resources its people needed. An unknown error has occurred.

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Historian Barbara Savage’s book,

Read preview. Du Bois, Carter G. Johnson, and others—argued tirelessly about the churches' responsibility in the quest for racial justice.


Could they be a liberal force, or would they be a constraint on progress? There was no single, unified black church but rather many churches marked by enormous intellectual, theological, and political differences and independence. Yet, confronted by racial discrimination and poverty, churches were called upon again and again to come together as savior institutions for black communities.

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The tension between faith and political activism in black churches testifies to the difficult and unpredictable project of coupling religion and politics in the twentieth century. By retrieving the people, the polemics, and the power of the spiritual that animated African American political life, Savage has dramatically demonstrated the challenge to all religious institutions seeking political change in our time.

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