Your lesson begins by discussing religious beliefs that originated in Africa and were first practiced in secret, as ?conjure? or ?voodoo.? Nevertheless, these beliefs expressed slaves? faith that religious practices could lead to personal freedom. The lesson ends with two documents from the Civil Rights period, one from Dr. King (a Southern Baptist) and one from Malcolm X (a Black Muslim). Take one or the other and suggest a religious idea the modern writer expresses that has its roots in the older, African-based religious beliefs of slaves.
Respond to this task in an original post of about 150 words (3-5 sentences) and then make a briefer comment (no more than 50 words) reacting to a fellow classmate?s post. You will receive up to 8 points for your post and 2 points for your reaction.
Post-Script: Religion and the Civil
I would like to introduce a related theme into this lesson to illustrate
how religion continued to shape African Americans? responses to
oppression and discrimination in the twentieth century. In your
textbook, you will read about how Black churches formed an important
center to Black community life after emancipation. By the 1960s,
almost a century after the Civil War had ended, Black Americans
continued to find themselves limited in their abilities to function as full
citizens. Jim Crow laws in the South allowed segregation in places like
schools, restaurants, and public transportation. Meanwhile, lawenforcement officials often looked the other way as blacks were
harassed and even murdered by angry and prejudiced groups. Even
after segregation was officially outlawed, it remained enforced
informally through violence and intimidation.
Churches played an important role in the growing controversy as many religious
Americans grew outraged by the unfair and often brutal treatment of African
Americans in the south. Blacks and whites participated in church sponsored
marches and protests. At the helm of these efforts was the Reverend Martin
Luther King Jr. The Christian churches, however, were not united in the cause
to extend civil rights to all Americans. Some congregations maintained the status
quo, either through complacency or tacit support for continued prejudicial
practices. In the first of the readings for this section, an excerpt from the sermon
?A New Heaven and a New Earth,? preached by the Rev. C. W. Franklin (191584), we encounter a dramatic example of this prejudice. Rev. Franklin, a strong
supporter of the civil rights movement, tells an anecdote of a white minister who
intended to compliment the choir of a black church at which he preached. But by
saying that in the afterlife he intended to visit ?the colored side? of heaven to hear
the singing, he unintentionally revealed the depth of his belief that the races are
not and never will be equal. Franklin, judiciously, says this is the result of the
discrimination he saw on earth: before such people can see heaven as the
perfect world it should be, they first have to experience a new earth, one in which
traditional prejudices are challenged and corrected.
Similarly, most members of the Birmingham clergy did not support Dr. King?s
1963 protest activities in Birmingham, Alabama, and criticized him and his fellow
the protestors for disturbing the peace in their community. Your second reading
is the letter King wrote to his fellow Christians when he was jailed forhis activities.
In it, King clearly articulates his disappointment that other Christians did not feel
a religious obligation to fight social injustice. In modern culture, King?s ideas have
tended to be held as emblematic of the connection between civil rights and
Christianity. Although many historians have been uncomfortable with positing religion as the prime motivator in the civil rights movement, few deny how
significant religious language and symbolism were to that cause. When
protestors sang ?We shall overcome,? they sang a hymn and aligned themselves
with religious causes.
King?s alignment with Evangelical religion, however, was not the only
source for leadership and motivation within the Civil Rights movement.
Although King criticized the apathy of some Christians, he stayed firmly
within the Evangelical fold. Malcolm X presented a radically different
view. Malcolm X
After a childhood and youth filled with violence, crime, poverty, and
prejudice, Malcolm Little was sentenced to prison. Ironically, this time
in jail gave him the time, safety, and stability to learn to read and to
study. While incarcerated, Malcolm read about the religious movement
called Nation of Islam. This group emerged during the early
twentieth century among African Americans who believed that their
ancestors had originally been Muslim (followers of Islam). We will be
learning about Islam in a later chapter. Like Christians and Jews,
Muslims believe in one God and in prophets. The Black Nation of Islam,
however, became a separate religion in and of itself. Drawing upon
some Islamic ideas, as well as Christian and Jewish traditions, Nation of
Islam leaders developed a religion centered on their perception of
Black nationality and history.
By the 1930s, Nation of Islam followers believed that the one God?
Allah?was speaking through a man called Elijah Muhammad.
According to their prophet, the sacred story of human origin was one of
Black superiority and a demonic plot which had produced a bleached
out White race. The Whites??blue eyed devils??functioned to press
Blacks to recognize their own superiority. Christianity, in particular, was
a plot devised by the ?demonic? Whites, to oppress and torment
Having struggled in a life of violence and deprivation, Malcolm Little
responded to these notions of persecution and oppression. He
continued reading and studying history while in prison, ultimately
concluding that the Nation of Islam was right: the Black race had been
systematically oppressed throughout history. Because Christianity was
an instrument of this persecution, no liberation could come from within
the Evangelical tradition. Blacks would need to break away from white
culture and religion in order to overcome oppression. Malcolm changed
his last name to X at this point, and devoted the remainder of his life to writing about black history and fighting for civil rights. Before his
assassination in 1965, Malcolm X had abandoned his alliance with the
Nation of Islam, and came to argue instead for universal solidarity. You
will read in his speech, however, the reasons for why the Nation of
Islam?s renunciation of Christianity was so resonant to him.
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