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A Question of Faith

February 13, 2011 3 comments

I’m in group four, the group looking at African American burial rituals from around the Civil War up until World War II, and part of what we’ve discussed researching is how religion played in to the burial rituals and what types of religion and religious practices African Americans found significant and meaningful during this time. Perhaps for this reason, I’ve been particularly attuned to the mentions of religion in what we’ve been reading so far this semester, both in terms of how enslaved people practiced religion and in terms of how their White owners forced religion on them while simultaneously using Christianity to justify their ownership of slaves. 

I noticed several instances of religion in the slave narratives we were asked to read for this week. One in particular which caught my eye as an example of White people misusing Christianity to benefit themselves in terms of slave control and ownership occurs in the narrative of Richard Caruthers, who describes how a White priest told his slave congregation, “The Lord say, don’t you [slaves] steal chickens from your missus. Don’t you steal YOUR MASTER’S hawgs.” I’ve read several narratives of slave life before taking this class and this is, disturbingly, not the first time I’ve seen Christianity’s principles warped in order to attempt to maintain and glorify White people’s supposed superiority. I obviously don’t want to appear too much like Galland and attempt to insert myself into a slave narrative, but I feel like if I were illiterate and had to rely on a priest’s word to tell me about the religion I was expected to subscribe to, and if according to this priest the religion not only justified my enslavement but encouraged my harsh treatment and directly accused me of stealing, I would be highly disinclined to have any real semblance of faith.  In fact, I’d probably be much more inclined to blow off the religion I was being sold altogether, since it seemed to have such a low opinion of me.

Going back to the slave narratives we’ve read for this week, in the narrative of James Jackson he mentions how church services funtioned on Sundays, saying, “Dey had a white preacher in de mornin’ and a cullud preacher in de evenin’.” I sadly don’t have quite as few hypothetical connections or significant thoughts about this quote beyond the fact that it seems strange to me that they would have two different preachers giving two different sermons on the same day, when, presumably, since they’re preaching the same religion their messages should be reasonably similar. Perhaps this again is an example of how White people were attempting to monitor the religious exposure their slaves received, as though through they were afraid to see the slaves actually think about and interpret Christianity and make it a personal experience. I’m really excited to see what I can uncover about slave religion and experience in my research and see how they may (or may not) have incorporated the religion being pressed upon them with their own systems of faith.

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