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W. E. B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963
The Negro Church. Report of a Social Study Made under the Direction of Atlanta University; Together with the Proceedings of the Eighth Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, May 26th, 1903
Atlanta: Atlanta University Press, 1903.


Connected with the Eighth Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems held in Atlanta in 1903, this report attempts to make a sociological survey of black religion in the United States. It begins with a short description of primitive African religion, focusing on its nature worship and sorcery, but also relating how Christian and Muslim incursions affected African religion. Du Bois then describes the disastrous effect of the African slave trade, and contends that the social upheaval thus caused created a void that only the priest-figure could fill. Even in slavery, Du Bois contends, the influence of African religion remained extremely powerful. The history of slavery and religion is followed from initial struggles over the Christian legality of slavery, to restrictions of slaves in church attendance, to new educational efforts by such agencies as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. This account goes on to discuss certain sects such as the Quakers, and considers the religious motivation behind the slave rebellions of Toussaint L'Ouverture, Nat Turner, and Denmark Vesey. The report names several influential early preachers.

After this introduction, the report shifts focus to "current conditions." It charts churches in 1890 by denomination (Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.), African Union Methodist Protestant, Congregational Methodist, A. M. E. Zion, Colored Methodist Episcopal, Cumberland Presbyterian) and by state, reporting total church membership, number of congregations, and total value of church property. What follows is a series of local studies conducted in Thomas County, Georgia; Deland, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; Illinois; Greene County, Ohio; and Philadelphia. In each case the number of churches by denomination and several statistical charts are provided. The report then talks in even greater detail about the situation of the various denominations, providing charts and lists of memberships, publications, receipts and disbursements, schools, missions, and so on. The denominations covered include Baptist, A.M.E., Zion Methodist, Colored Methodist, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist. In addition, the report briefly covers other social issues, including the relation of the church to men and women, children, and ministers. It responds to an elsewhere-published assertion that blacks are categorically immoral by publishing several extracts attesting to their morality.

Appended to the report is the program for the conference, along with the remarks of Washington Gladden, the keynote speaker, and a list of resolutions adopted by the conference.

Christopher Hill

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