During the decades of southern slavery in America, associations of enslaved people were a constant source of concern to enslavers. For many members of White society, Black religious meetings symbolized the ultimate threat to White existence. Nevertheless, enslaved people established and relied heavily on their churches because religion offered a means of catharsis. Africans retained their faith in God and found refuge in their churches.
The first recorded Black church was in Mecklenberg, Virginia in 1758. Called the African Baptist or "Bluestone" Church, this house of worship was founded on the William Byrd plantation near the Bluestone River.
Organized politically and spiritually, Black churches were not only given to the teachings of Christianity but they were faithfully relied upon to address the specific issues which affected their members. Women at St. Paul’s AME church in Santa Barbara, for example, tackled the issue of temperance in the early 20th century; Rev. Thomas from Mount Olive Baptist church brought a speaker to deal with “the building of a race.” Scholars have repeatedly asserted that Black history and Black church history overlap enough to be virtually identical.
Santa Barbara Black church history interweaves with the people who worship within its walls. The women in both Mount Olive Baptist church and St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME), for example, had Women’s Societies that organized fundraisers and social events. The women jumped at the chance to help secure funds and furniture for the building of their respective churches.
As microcosms of the larger society, Black churches provided an environment free of oppression and racism for African Americans. In Black churches, African Americans were consistently exposed to social, political, and economic opportunities. These could be pursued and achieved by all members.
Excerpted in part from “The Black Church in America,” a brief history.” Read the entire article at the African American Registry.