BLACK BELIEF: Folk Beliefs of Blacks in America and West Africa by Henry H. Mitchell

BLACK BELIEF: Folk Beliefs of Blacks in America and West Africa

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Mitchell, a professor of Black Church Studies at Rochester, argues with passionate persuasiveness that Black American Christianity was, from the earliest days of slavery, something more than voodoo and black magic grafted on to the theology of Rome and Geneva. The slaves were not a tabula rasa; they were not promptly denuded of their native culture when they got to the plantations. On the contrary, the fundamental tenets of Christianity -- God's omnipotence, justice and benevolence -- were quickly accepted among Afro-Americans because the world view of the West African tribes was ""nearly identical with the Judeo-Christian view."" Although scholars, both White and Black, have chiefly noticed the manifestations of ""low"" religion among Africans -- charms, spells, incantations -- they have been slow to understand the powerful sustaining folk beliefs of the masses. Mitchell's somewhat a priori argument is nonetheless telling: how could the shackled and oppressed slave have achieved his resilience, his affirmation of life and his abiding faith in God's goodness from his New World experience? Was he likely to believe the sermons of the ""massa"" unless they recalled something wonderful and vital in his own culture? There is of course a great deal of evidence to show that Blacks reinterpreted the gospel in a way that kindled and reaffirmed their desire for liberty -- to this end Mitchell makes extensive use of the slave narratives assembled by the Federal Writers' Project of 1936-1938. An important attempt at radical Black scholarship and a continuing refutation of the old view that religion was something spoon-fed to the slaves to make them obedient, docile and just a bit more civilized.

Pub Date: March 5th, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row