tv Henry Louis Gates The Black Church CSPAN August 19, 2021 12:52am-1:56am EDT
>> it is my grade pleasure as a college history major and a lover of history reading history to welcome our guest today, skip gates. i want to call him professor gates he would not let me. [laughter] because he is that historians historian and as such an honor for me to be with you today and to lead you through a discussion on your new book the black church. little black —- background , the lecture university professorga from the hutchins center for african-american research at harvard.
obviously and and me award-winning filmmaker peabody award winner, he has done so much to get history and in particular of african-american people in this country and in thisld world out too the public. he is the man and i could not be happier to talk to specifically and especially about this subject in this book. if it is okay, i would like to start with looking at history from what i thought it was in your book from what i have never really w seen before. look at the history of the black church through the lens of mother emmanuel church.
>> i would be happy to but i think were going to show a clip from the series quick. >> i'm sorry. yes we are. >> then we will go to mother emmanuel s. >> this is our story jeff bezos ♪ ♪♪ all the day long ♪ ♪ ♪♪ >> ♪♪ ♪♪ >> that is great. >> in the name of jesus we are rising. >> the black church was more than a spiritual but it was the epicenter of black life. >> businesses, and institutions.
>> it gave people a sense of value, belonging and worthiness. i don't know how we could have survived as a people without it. >> to tell the story of american religion is a political story the black church tells us to withstand all the slings and arrows of segregation. >> and to be beaten for democracy. >> the five great black preachers of all time. >> jeremiah wright. howard herman. bishop michael curry. >> did you thank you would get one amen? i learned howin to see the amen in their eyes. [laughter] some might argue black church is the firstk black theater music is everything gospel
music is a shiny presentation. >> entertainment shouldn't be in the church who do you think the preacher is? that is entertainment. [laughter] >> the african-american churches 80 through 90 percent women but the leadership is through 80 or 90 percent male there is a price to pay. >> if you say you are born this way then you tell god you are a liar. we are a testament to the goodness in the grace of god everything in the world has tried to kill us.
>> so the place where people made waves out of nowhere and we were told to look back and wonder how we got over. we call it the church. wow. let me just say to any of our listeners and watchers today if youd have not seen that series you need to see that series it is intended with the book it is so powerful, skip. >> thank you. sorry to get ahead of myself.
but this idea toki look at the history of the black church through mother emmanuel and asking you to look backwards from 1816ro and forward through 2015 there is a lot going on there that i think you beautifully bring out in the book. >> thank you. that was one of the motif in the book and if i forget i want you to ask me about the three black ame preachers i built a triangle around them that mother emmanuel going to charleston south carolina it was majority black state louisiana and mississippi where majority black states and ground zero for the black community of reconstruction was south carolina georgia and
florida were almost majority black states so there was a real concentration of representative clyburn says to me and those six other states that was true even before the civil war. the nickname was negro country because it was so full of black people because of the economy and the productivity and the islands and the expertise africans brought to south carolina to grow rice but there is also a sizable free black community now we know that ame church the first white domination formed in philadelphia by richard allen and formerly born in the year 1860 but in charleston there
is emmanuel church and in 1822, a man was accused of plotting insurrection in charleston how did he get free? listen to this this is one of the ironies of american history and the complexity of slavery he was in and slave man 1799 he plays the city lottery like he play at the grocery store and he wins $1500. he uses 600 of those dollars to buy his freedom from his so-called owners. so after 1800 he was free. in 1822 he is a very prominent man we don't know if it was true but he was accused of and insurrection to lead a plot in
charleston and was found guilty and then of course he was executed but the church was completely destroyed there was enormous sensitivities that's not the right were there were paranoia because the haitians defeatedrs the greatest army on earth of napoleon bonaparte when napoleon became emperor to reinstitutean slavery which was the name of haiti. >> and brutal. >> the average lifespan on a sugar plantation was seven years. this was the richest colony in the history of the world and because of sugar it was like crack. >> forgive me for using that analogy but normal people, could not afford sugar it was
a luxury product kings and queens and bishops only wealthy people could use sugar before the new world opened up so it could be mass-produced to be one of the world's first commodity products and it was also used to bolster the working class so they can be exploited and some anti- slavery figures in england boycotted sugar because they knew it was a product with blood dripping all over it so the haitians defeated napoleon when he sent his brother-in-law black - - back in 18912 institute slavery that was abolished in 1794 and then under the french assembly you know those details he died a horrible death but then they
led the haitians to freedom so that americans were paranoid about slave insurrection so whether or not he was plotting he was found guilty and executed and they destroyed the church so cut to the end of the civil war with all these black people in south carolina and richard harvey king who iss. the ame minister in book —- brooklyn straps himself because the ame church cannot profit the ties in the confederacy 90 percent of all people lived in the former confederate states in the south before the great migration. so they knew it was fertile ground for growth. so ground zero had to be charleston and the first thing
richard harvey kane does is rebuild mother emmanuel church and who they hire as an architect? his son you cannot make that up it is like poetry so richard harvey kane becomes a major figure in the renaissance of reconstruction and starts his own newspaper and then will run for congress selected 1872 and 1876 so the third beat in this story sadly is dylan roofem who did not choose mother emmanuel accidentally. because it was the heart of reconstruction. i did the last interview we believe with the reverend that wednesday night he was at prayer meeting with eight
other that i called them the saints. the innocence dylan roof prayed with them for an hour and then as we know he murdered nine people that night and mother emmanuel. so that completes the arc of mother emmanuel church but it was at the heart of reconstruction and we tend to forget this but black men and the former confederacy got the right to vote because of the reconstruction act three years before the 15th amendment was ratified. black man in the south got the right to vote in the summer of 1867 so they registered to vote 80 percent of the black men eligible s to vote in the summer i call it the first freedom summer and still they
haven't voted in then assuming they cast their votes for ulysses s grant t1 the electoral college but the only one of the popular vote by just over 300,000 so black people said they elected a president of the united states through the popular vote but the most important point for reconstruction is facing the power through the ballot was south carolina in that first insurrection the house of representatives was majority black speaker of the house the secretary of state county treasury was black it was amazing and may be the most racist film ever made we tend to think it was about slavery
but it wasn't it was people of reconstruction and the evil of giving black men the right to vote a member when they are in the legislature? they are eating chicken bones andhe drinking liquor in the same massage nation made legal. it was terrible. >> it was horrible. thank you for asking the question. you can see the power of the church in politics and often christianity and karl marx was accused of the opiate of the people and people forget there
is more to that quote. >> absolutely but for african-american christians, they were never allowed to be a political because the black church was born in politics as a protest against anti- black racism because richard allen was attending the st. george methodist church in philadelphia and had to sit in the back and then as they are praying and usher comes up and tells them to move to the black section then later they get up and walk out and they form their own church which is the first black municipal church and then richard allen forms the old church in the ame and then he is the first.
>> i was going to point out humbly that he was in a biscuit paleo. [laughter] >> the gates have been episcopalians as long as they have been a christian. [laughter] the abyss couple church in cumberland maryland and all the coleman's are methodist in west virginia 25 miles away. do you know why they are called c saint phillips. >> philip the ethiopian quick. >> yes who is representing the queen it was a real clean and he was the treasurer and he is reading the book of isaiah but
they call him philip the evangelist there is no other black figure in the new testament so as a black episcopalian so if you say see black then you know. >> the other one is the saint. >> yes he held jesus with across. >> that was simon of cyrene. >> that's right. >> any of the north africans we claim them. >> that's true. >> let's stay with politics and the quest for social justice. you write in the book, let me just read this one little debt from page 193. you are writing about in the wake of george floyd in these
shattering times with the rising generation demanding their voices be heard the dehumanization of black bodies could this be the last lynching? the black church has been challenged to respond with leadership and grace , resiliency and inspired action. that is beautiful writing. so talk about the church and social justice movements over time. >> to the point i wanted to make is howow political the black church had been from the very beginning. frederick douglass is thought to have spontaneously live on nantucket island with the anti- slavery society in 1841 but that's not true he was speaking at the ame church between 1838 and 1841 and he taught sunday school in
baltimore. he had been practicing his oratory already in the black church and washu very religious of course. but his rifle with the big battle of the national negro convention whether they should encourage the enslaved people to we bell and is a presbyterian minister and both of them are a leading abolitionistn and then to give humans example of t the 15 black man elected to congress between 1870 and 1877 when reconstruction ends and three were ministers so they say that 2000 black men were elected or appointed to office during reconstruction and 243 of them were ministers
40 acres and a mule? where did that come from? general sherman and savanna meeting with 20 black ministers under the leadership and says what do you want this is after sherman's march to the sea. what do you want? they said they had a stenographer there the whole transcript is printed the next day in the newspaper. we want land and we want to be left alone. landis how you accumulated wealth and transmitted wealth and they understood the importance of property because we were property. so they had an intuitive understanding of the importance of property and then to reallocate the stated lands of the enslavers to the enslaved and that is the first
40 acres and a mule. and that is radical land distribution cams out of a meeting with those 20 black ministers. t the face of the civil rights movement of the north was adam clayton powell junior just like his father with the baptist church and then of course the face of the civil rights movement in the south and jesse jackson the first black man who has at least a chance. >> he is a minister doctor king is a lieutenant and mayor of atlanta who is a minister we can take it up to january 5t.
he is like the ebenezer. because of the fight against racism was unrelenting black christians byy and large cannot avoid being political so as we have a form of christianity because after the death but liberates that on earth that christianity was meant to be the redemptive force for the nations original sin of slavery that is a completely different identity than the sister denominations whether methodist church or the
baptist church and anglicans i'm ashamed to say were slow with the baptism of black people as you well know writing a book of the negro and indian advocate there is a question whether africans were real human beings i know it sounds hyperbolic but it is true. he said i know they are human beings because they can read and write and only human beings can read and write and he is refuting the idea that they will demand their freedom and says no. we don't havee to give them the freedom to obey their masters but we are duty bound by god to save their souls so we can
keep them enslaved and baptize them then they will get their freedom and salvation together. but this is important to remember that the great awakening unfolds that is the big protestant like the american protestant reformation and 59 percent of ancestors arrive in the united states after 1750. we tend to forget that the methodist and the baptist will come white people with open arms and mrs. long before the formation of the national baptist convention in 1895 and most of which caught fire within the black community but white protestant denominations welcomed the methodist and the baptist started to welcome
african people into the church in the great awakening around 1750 and tell eventually the methodist church word split to the northern and southern methodist church over the issue of slavery that was the question of abolition and when i wrotena the line about the last lynching i thought maybe hope against hope that maybe george floyd would be the last person murdered unjustly by the police. but we know that is not the way it has turned out. >> sadly. sadly. let me take youe back to what youki were talking about with
the meeting with sherman so you write very powerfully in the book another famous meeting with black ministers which is the meeting with lincoln for the issuance of the emancipation proclamation. talk about that. >> august 1862 abraham lincoln sends a man who is in favor of the relocation of free black people out of the united states either to m panama, mexico, haiti or back to africa. and he gathers five black men who were ministers to come to the white house and says he wants them to be the leaders of the movement basically to supportn all the free black eyes to lead them out of here your people and our people will be enemies it is your
fault we're in the middle of this civil war because it's august 18. >> the north is losing. >> big time. and lincolnol obviously knew he would have to f free these black people. and they said until the end of 1862 lincoln still through november he was still entertaining the colonization that you could remove these people their presence with white people is incompatible. >> i hate to interrupt you but that no on the state of
virginia is a piece of work. >> he is bad he even says orangutans in africa mate with african and women and you cannot get more racist than that. [laughter] >> and then to make a case that africans were human beings and part of the human community with thomas jefferson puts thatco in their he doesn't say it as directly as morgan ises refuting but he does say if orangutans prefer african women then are they the top of the animal kingdom or at the bottom of the human family on the great chain and that's why reading and writing was important because everybody reviewed phyllis wheatley's book because she was the first person of african descent to publish a book of poetry in english. and everybody wrote about that
benjamin franklin visited her when they were both in london she had a go to london to get hersh book publishing is nobody believed in african could write by herself voltaire said i guess they can write poetry. and george washington in the middle of the revolution it has her brought to the headquarters i am in my kitchen in washington's headquarters about a block and a half away he had phyllis wheatley brought to his headquarters just to see in african who had written a book just to see this phenomenon like a talking animal. i'm sorry i lost our train of thought.
but then news of this hits the black community in frederick douglass goes nuts because douglas says no. one of the arguments was no. this is our home. a we are not africans anymore were not going to sierra leone which was set up to free africans that were captured by the british on the ships with the slave trade to the british colonies in 18 oh seven and 18 oh eight in liberia set up by the american colonization society 1826 to free the african-americans to go back they weren't from liberia by a large very few ancestors were from what is now liberia that
25 percent of ancestors we know because of the amazing database that you can look up right now or look it up under the trans-atlantic database 25 percent come from gambia which is heavily muslim and 25 percent come from angola. one of the amazing things one of the facts that i have learned is that about 20 percent, and that is a figure about 20 percent were muslims when they got on the boat.
>> i did not know that until i read the book. >> i told the story in the book and in the film and i interview one of his descendents and he left behind the manuscript in arabic and how too find mecca and pray to the east. the first black churches those argue which is the first but we felt the first african baptist church was in savanna was 1773 there is a great scene in the film we flew down the language from harvard to interpret those scripts that are engraved or carved into one of the pews and says it's arabic. [laughter] the sister in the kitchen i could hear yelling.
but 20 percent of the ancestors were muslim and practicing muslims when they landed what is now the united states. and a percentage we don't know had also been baptized roman catholics because the king of condo on —- congo converted to catholicism in 1491 the year columbus sailed the ocean blue and he converted his kingdom and sent his son. he understood power he sent his sonri to be trained as a priest and became the first bishop and came back to congo i think in 1517 and became the first bishop. islam reached west africa by the tenth century and we know that by the 12th century islam was widely practiced in what is now senegal and mbs so there is absolutely no
question about the fact so think of the first century black people enslaved in british north america and traditional african religion is ancestral worship but particularly in cuba and in brazil but about 3 percent of our ancestors were yorba so 20 percent islamic an unknown percentage baptized roman catholic and then the majority of course practice traditional african religion because the anglicans who are dominant are not letting africans join and africa surreptitiously is worshiping their all god
forming blend of a religion in the anglicans open up and then they really welcome black people my uncle is a methodist minister and trained like mlk and he told me when black theology came out that as a minister his church was in indianapolis and he said black christianity is no different than white christianity i wasn't into studying about the black church at that time. i was raised in the church as you know and i converted at 15 much to my father's relief because he that the testable church is the true church. but i joined a very
conservative methodist church. when you join you cannot play cards or dance no rock 'n roll. and i love to dance. [laughter] i couldn't go to movies. i joined the choir. i read the bible which put me good for the sat because the text of african-american culture is the king james bible other than wheatley and then beloved in solomon. so i did that because my mother was very sick and she told me one sunday night i looked at my parents were all dressed my mother is at the
hospital and bent over and told me she was going to die. i cannot believe it i'm so my mother. i went upstairs to my bedroom and got on my knees and i cried and prayed and said jesus let my mother live i will give my soul to you lord and then a few days later she came home from the hospital i looked in the mirror and said oh no. t [laughter] so the following saturday i hitchhiked there were so few black people in western virginia aggravated way between pittsburgh and washington my family lived there for 200 years you don't think that as a hotbed of african-american culture but that's where my people are from. we had one minister for two churches one in the county seat 5 miles away they would
have their service on saturday afternoon and then sunday morning service was in piedmont so i hitchhiked. i did not think about anything because life was innocent they hitchhiked to kaiser i go to the service and there were aboutro 15 black people the average age must have been 80 and then there was me. [laughter] the minister reverend ralph at one point in the service that anybody wants to give their life to christ to call to the altar and i stood up and he said to me skippy, the bathroom is over they are. they thought i had to go to the bathroom. [laughter] it was very moving and he asked me there were five questions i think. i said yes and i answered in
the affirmative everyone cried and hugged me and i cried and then i hitchhiked back home and in those days there were channels watching gunsmoke or whatever it was and about 8:39 o'clock i decided i said i better tell them and i said anything happen to you guys today? [laughter] they said why? i said i joined the church. what? [laughter] and i never told them why they never figured out why i joined the church and the reason i
switch to my father's church at 14 was because the people i was worshiping with were really good people miss holy and my grandmother was very religious but they were strict fundamentalist. they believe the world is created in seven days and there really is an adam and an event they were a literalist and bad it literally but i was just 14 years old so allegory andhe evolution. and i i didn't want to be a hypocrite so my brother came from dental schools and we've had enough. and saturday afternoon a matinee and then to have a hard days night in 1964 so
when i came out and then to convert to the abyss couple church and it fit my growing intellect and it was the right thing for me to do. the best that i could. it wasd good discipline and i learned a lot about spirituality and myself people often ask me why did we make this film or write this book now? in a way because i want to pay tribute to that era. the oldest most continuous in
the history of the african-american people and think about it you saw what oprah said what would we have done? they kept the same and from going crazy. we learned from deferred gratification but the last africans arrived legally in the united states in 18 oh seven. we were not free as a people until the ratification of the 1h amendment so all those generations had to believe little phil jackson little skippy gates word one day be free and educated in a way they could not even fathom.
[laughter] and then they say you are crazy then it is an african who marries a white american that is just too much. [laughter] >> a lot of people just have to believe in the future through the church and the other thing that i realized is that the church was laboratory genetically representing about 50 ethnic groups from senegal down to congo and angola and then madagascar but overwhelmingly between senegal and the congo and a laboratory for the production of black
culture when they came to the united states 1892 in 1883 rights and essay and the only original american contribution was the music of the former slaves may have not announced it yet that it is other black social networks the way that we replicate the world behind the veil like the black masons. >> fraternities and sororities and the divine nine which kamala harris is a member of the alpha kappa alpha that ultimate national medical association the national bar association all of those black institutions which model their existence on the denomination of the black church. but after that i will do the
history of gospel music. [laughter] >> table get mad at me because i am supposed to do q&a but i had to talk to about black music but let's go to q&a i will close by asking you to tell me your favorite gospel song that we will come back to that you can ask me now. i'm the guest you do whatever. [laughter] >> what did the great migration mean to the racial makeup of the united states and northern black churches quick. >> that's a great question in 191090 percent of the african-american people lived in the south. after 1910 of course black people began to migrate to the
north the majority of black people never lived in the north and the reverse migration became very close like 6040 but then people started to move back to the south and also the industrial jobs from the urban north had drawn them to the north in the first place during world war i. so it meant two things. to results that large black denominations formed in the city in the northern cities because 90 percent of black people were in the south moving north they took the church with them.
the other thing is the last reconstruction congress needs representatives in 19 oh one then negro will rise. the next black man elected to congress is from chicago 1929 because black people moved from mississippi and alabama to chicago and concentrated on the south side with the right to vote because of the 15th amendment and they had the numbers so they were disenfranchised and mississippi in 1890 from each of the former confederate states. i will give you an example how effective it was disenfranchised to state constitutions with the amount of voter repression and a poll
tax that only my colleague could ever pass i would say you how dramatic it was in the wheezy in a the majority black states when the civil war ended in 18901898 but in 19 oh four after the ratification of the new louisiana state constitution 1342 black men registered to vote. that is amazing from 130,006 years but with the growth of the black church and political power which is why that congressman john lewis another ordained minister was beaten on pettus bridge because they were marching for voting
rights because that was the heart of black power. the movie the birth of a nation is based on a novel called the klansman and he says the worst thing that ever happened in the history of civilization was not the defeat of the south by the north that giving the formerly enslaved the right to vote a reversal of all that was beautiful and true in the history of civilization it is amazing. that was the betrayal of civilization by these unscrupulous people in the north. >> it would almost be hard to believe if it were not happening now. >> yes. made the series
on reconstruction because i wanted people to realize what is happening now is a repeat in and black people experience a maximum amount of freedom and it was all rollback with the period of reduction that's what we sell with the rise of donald trump and the rise of the tea party and thank god donald trump was denied a second term because we, black people, women, gay people, trends people, our rights would've been and just we never finished our discussion about those ministers. so let me wrap that up.
as you said the crucial thing the north was being defeated so when the newspapers printed the fact he met with the five black ministers at the white house to encourage them to lead the free community out of here and to emigrate to africa or latin america or the and all the other black abolitionist go crazy so lincoln releases the preliminary emancipation proclamation september 1862 and still mentions colonization in his message to congress december 1862 but the emancipation in the final form there is no mention of colonization and he has added black men have the right to bear arms and fight for the
union and lincoln himself said in a letter he calls in his black warriors without his black warriors the north would not have one and in the last speech he gives, he says he has decided has been convinced that certain black men should have the rightul to vote because there's 200,000 but we know there were 200,000 black men in the navy army and navy together my black warriors in effect and the very intelligent negroes we don't know how many there were. [laughter] and truthfully you can say that speech led to his death because john wilkes boothou was on the grounds of the white
house listening and said that said i will run him through meaning i will kill him and assassinated abraham lincoln because lincoln underwent a major transformation about the mental capacity of black people and their right to bear arms and fight for the union and in part through his friendship david life knows more about president douglas and president doug listed. >> i had a conversation like this with him a couple years ago. >> he is great. we option the documentary rights to his book i just looked att the cut which will be aired hbo next year i think. >> one final question. how can we implement the book
the black church into a k-12 curriculum? >> we have talked about this. this was a prelude my dear friend needs no introduction to this audience has asked me to work withn him on the reconstructionon curriculum about the black church and he is a hard person to say no to. so i would like your input about that because what i did giving as shoutut out to my editor at random house / penguin is i found a way to tell black history t to the mechanism of the evolution of the black church. it's like instead of pitting
the church into a history of african-americans to save their freedom i turn the telescope around intel through the evolution. >> remember i was going to tell you about the triangular structure. so born in 1825 what is now west virginia from greenbrier county virginia to daniel payne born 1811 and was born free as a member of the brown society not too dark you were brown then becomes bishop in 1852. i have to tell you the story. he believes that none of this gospel music or the holy ghost or none of that.
so after the civil war he goes to mother emmanuel and proselytizing throughout the south and then the ame church so he goes to a traditional black church and people are getting the holy ghost and he jumps out you have to stop that. [laughter] so i love that story. and then henry e-mailed neil turner is born free in washington dc slavery is legal through 1962 at the civil war he is born in 1834 and as a chaplain one of the few black chaplains for the union army during the civil war and becomes bishop of the ame church in 1880 and goes to sierra leone to proselytize for the ame church in the 18
eighties and 18 nineties and then as the founding meeting of the national baptist convention in 1895 gives a speech and said god was a negro. god was black. [laughter] people cannot believe it when i read that i said that was 1895. and the convention was complicated one of my favorite stories is about reverend boyd in 1896 forms the national baptist publishing company and the citizens savings bank as part of the denomination and in 19no oh eight the negro doll company all under the national baptist convention. isn't that amazing quick. >> it is and it shows the
centrality of the institution of the black church just through one domination alone. >> they are asking me to wrap things up. >> we are just getting started. >> i have another power in me. but thank you for the book. thank you for all the work you do. thank you for everything you have taught and modeled. url light in the black community we cannot thank you enough. thank you to all of our guests for attending and being on with us today. please go by the book don't just buy the book. read the book. [laughter] the recording ofva this conversation will be available on t the website please check that out for more resources and again thank you for attending and god bless.
>> i honestly don't remember how long we were in that situation by the time they barricaded the door and the time we got out i was told it was somewhere around 20 minutes. it could eventually hours or five minutes but i had no sense of time whatsoever. but i remember when i got off the phone with my kids i noticed my heart was pounding out of my chest i was actually very worried i was having a heart attack my father had heart attacks so i was very worried about that and i must have put my hand up to my chest because that photograph shows me lying on my back i don't remember lying on my back but i do remember jason taking my hand stroking it and comforting me telling me i would be okay and being perplexed he was reassuring me
because i didn't realize i was showing how upset i was. >> if you are studying critical race theory you will find the name derek bell, who died in 2011 was one of the principal originators of this much discussed subject. he appeared on book notes to discuss bases at the bottom of the well. the permanence of