For this week’s reading, the chapter about Mahalia Jackson resonated with me the most. I enjoyed how passionate she was about the music of her faith. She embodied the music itself and fused it with the roots of her culture which was very interesting to me. In terms of African American music and religion culture, she influenced and paved the way for many musicians we see today, Aretha Franklin being an example. On a personal note, many churches that I grew up in used Mahalia Jackson’s music style as the basis for praise and worship sessions. We also see Jackson’s influence in movies such as Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog”. Another concept I enjoyed while reading this chapter was the versatility of brass bands. From block parties to funerals, these bands were the heart and soul of these functions.
Compared to the chapters assigned previously throughout the year, chapter 49 of Sernett’s “African American Religious History” was definitely one of my favorites. African American religion is often described as just Christian values mixed in with the roots of their native land, but Rabbi Matthew gives the reader a much different insight. I really enjoyed how Rabbi Matthew used biblical and historical context to show the connection between Judaism and early Africans. When asked what an ideal Jewish person would look like, I would imagine a non-black person(like many others would). Matthew gave me a more diverse outlook when he describes the descendants of crucial Hebrew prophets such as Noah, Moses, and Solomon, who were in fact African. Before reading this chapter, I thought that Judaism and African people had very little connection, when in actuality they were key components in the Hebrew faith.
As I was reading chapter 39 of Sernett’s African American Religious History, I made some real life connections that I still observe today. The main point that the letters between the two sisters prove is that African Americans remained loyal to their denominations as they migrated north of the United States. Despite constant enticement from northern churches, many black migrants wouldn’t be members of a church if it didn’t follow the core values that were exemplified in their previous church. In today’s era, there are still many instances of that. When my grandmother moved to Chesapeake, Virginia in her younger years, she participated in local services held in her neighbor’s home before she found a church that was right for her, just like many migrants did in years past.
The link below provides extensive information on the religious diffusion as the Great Migration took place:
Out of the weekly readings, Sernett’s chapter 27 of African American Religious History gave me the most insight. William Wells Brown, although blunt, spoke about issues that some African American communities face currently. The part of his excerpt that resonated with me the most was towards the end of the chapter when he talks about the Petersburg Baptist church tearing down an old monument and rebuilding it for the sole purpose of glamour and recognition from sister churches. When discovering the news, he criticizes the priorities of the church which was quite taboo at the time. Even in today’s times, less fortunate people put their hard earned money into institutions that have no beneficial intentions for them. Instead of having flashy items that make the church “worldly-minded” in the words of Brown, he suggest that the church actually uses the people’s funds to build programs for their benefit rather than skewing the capital distribution. By doing this, it creates a less money oriented church, helping members and leaders focus on faith.
This interview from Dr. Umar Johnson speaks about the same investment turmoil that the African American community faces today.
While I was reading chapter 14 of Sernett’s African American Religious History, there was one quote from the prestigious Richard Allen that stuck with me. When describing his early experiences as a slave, he talks about how he had a master that was more of a father figure to him. Allen’s master often supported his inclination towards religion and was described as a tender man. Interestingly enough, the mentality of a slave remains the same whether the master is humane or not, looking from Allen’s perspective. He describes slavery as a “bitter pill, notwithstanding we had a good master.” which grasped my attention(Sernett 141). In terms of Allen’s view, a good master didn’t change the fact that he was property that he could be bought and sold by another man. I enjoyed reading his take on this because it gave me an idea of how Richard Allen viewed himself in terms of worth. He saw himself as more than one third of a person, which could be a result of his spiritual aspirations.
Henry Bibb’s “Conjuration and Witchcraft” excerpt on Sernett’s African American Religious History contained information at the very beginning that put things into perspective for me. In the second paragraph, Bibb describes how masters encouraged their slaves to get drunk and fight each other on the Sabbath for the sole purpose of the master’s amusement. Aside from the fact that they were treated like circus animals, it shows how slaveholders view their servants as not having the capacity to fully grasp the set of beliefs that these people apparently hold so dear. The Sabbath plays such a crucial role in Christianity, yet the oppressed were deprived of participating in it. I would use this text to argue that plantation owners didn’t convert these people out of the “goodness” of their hearts. It was more of a control mechanism, hence the reason why slaves learning the bible was discouraged. Expecting a slave to understand or comply with Christianity at the time without knowing how to read the bible or be involved in the holiest day of the week is like expecting a college student to do well in class without the course textbook while never showing up to the classroom. That is why I believe these people began making creating their own rituals such as conjuration.
In terms of other people’s views, I’m usually fairly tolerant but Jupiter Hammon in chapter 4 of African American Religious History had an ideology that I simply couldn’t agree with. I understand that he took a passive, forgiving approach(which isn’t wrong at all) but it seems quite skewed from my perspective. He speaks on his “brethren”, stated on page 35, as if they are unable to survive without the cruel mistreatment of their oppressors. Hammon also states that a slave’s master is only cruel and abusive if the servant doesn’t freely obey them which triggered me the most. First, it’s difficult for enslaved people to freely(oxymoron) obey someone who stripped them of everything they have. Second, his thought process is like saying victims of domestic violence wouldn’t be beaten if they simply complied with their partner.
Out of the three chapters given in the assigned weekly reading, Chapter 2 of African American Religious History was the one that resonated with me the most. When I began reading about the Obi-men of Jamaica, it reminded me of the West African witch doctors that my grandmother used to tell me about. As a child, I was so mesmerized by her stories because it was much different from the conventional stories I heard in elementary school. Until I encountered the text, I had no idea that these West African doctors brought their rituals with them to Jamaica during the Columbian Exchange. Jamaica is often overlooked in terms of its deeply rooted culture, but I’m glad that Sernett included this excerpt in his book.