A Mighty Fortress
A Mighty Fortress
The Black Church as Ancestral Foundation for Black Survival and Civil Rights
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In contrast to some observers who have viewed the black church as a sanctuary of escapism and assistant in the maintenance of an oppressive status quo, this book argues that the black church served in a positive way in the black community in dual roles as agent for social control and agent for social change. This occurred through a process of symbolic interactionism, a social psychological perspective, involving political, communicative, social, economic and psychological dynamics in black survival, liberation, and advancement. As imperceptible as positive change may have been at times in black history (as often happens in the symbolic interactionism process), change was occurring, aided by the black church, culminating in the civil rights movement and beyond. Hence, the black church is viewed in this work as ancestral foundation for black survival and civil rights. And although the process of overcoming oppression continues, the black church has helped black people to not only survive but prevail in that process through a flexible balance of social control and social change. In this book the black church is defined as a sociological and metaphysical institution and a dynamic life force in the lives of black people that emerged in slavery as an “invisible institution,” evolved into an organized, visible expression of religious worship, and now consists of independent, historic, and totally black-controlled denominations and predominantly black congregations in historically white denominations. In viewing the black church from slavery to 1960, it is seen that during slavery the black church was a dynamic force in an oppressive situation. Upon Emancipation the black church was the major contributor in the transition from slavery to a culturally autonomous black community. From the turn of the century to the 1940s, the black church played a sustaining role in the history of black people, where it offered a great deal of consolation and a sense of self-worth, and became the institution which shaped the moral attitudes and religious and social behavior of a people. In the 1950s it played a major role in the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement. Over time, the black church was shaped by social conditions as it in turn helped shape social conditions. Thus it was an agent for social control and at the same time an agent for social change. A symbolic interactionism frame of reference is used because this approach moves toward an interdisciplinary, humanistic, interpretive treatment of such phenomena as social relationships, communications, the self, emotions, meaning, and identity. However, the author broadens this perspective to apply to a larger structural, yet interactive, phenomenon--the black church as a social and metaphysical institution. Since much of the literature focuses on black leadership, the attention has been usually given to the higher echelons of the black church, which traditionally have males at the top of such hierarchical arrangements. Consequently, certain data are extrapolated, analyzed, and interpreted from such a focus and assumed as representative of the total black church. Whatever women--who are usually in the lower echelons of the church--have contributed within the church becomes subsumed in the patriarchal generalizations or universals derived from these research observations. This means that a significant group within the church--black women--has been neglected in a larger male model or, in a worst-case scenario, totally omitted. This has been a most unfortunate sociological error. This study seeks to avoid that critical error by looking at the church as a sociological collective unit of black men and women dynamically interacting and working together. Women’s activities and contributions are then an integral thread woven throughout the fabric of the study. The historical periods covered in the book are slavery--especially of the nineteenth century-- the C
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Charles E. Williams, Ph.D., is an African-American social psychologist who is an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York City. He is also the program supervisor for Catholic Charities’ Corona Elmhurst Community Support Systems and a consultant for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Additionally, he is a child psychotherapist with the Child Development Support Corporation in Brooklyn where he treats children who are experiencing emotional and behavioral problems. He has also worked as consultant, advisor, and therapist at such agencies as the Haitian Community Health Center, United Cerebral Palsy Association, and the Salvation Army. Dr. Williams received his Bachelor of Science Degree and his Master of Social Work Degree from New York University and he received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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