A scholarly and intimate look at the Black Church’s prodigious history and potential future.
In a companion book to a PBS documentary, renowned historian Gates delves into the history of the Black Church, which Harvard historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham called “the single most important institution in the Black community.” For centuries, the church has been a source of hope and strength for Black people, first as a way to address the horrific cruelty of slavery. A better life awaited the enslaved; they just had to remain faithful. At the same time, Black Christianity spurred the nation’s largest slave rebellion, and, later, the church would become the physical and spiritual home of Black social protest and the civil rights movement. Through meticulous research and interviews with scholars as well as “believers, nonbelievers, musical artists, [and] pastoral leaders,” Gates paints a compelling portrait of the church as a source of “unfathomable resiliency” for Black ancestors as well as the birthplace of so many distinctly African American aesthetic forms, including “blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul and R&B, folk, rock, and even hip-hop.” With the advent of hip-hop came a “generational shift away” from the traditional church, which now finds itself at a crossroads in an era featuring the rise of both the “bling-bling” of prosperity gospel and the socially conscious Black Lives Matter movement—not to mention the pandemic, which affects Black, Native, and Hispanic people disproportionately. Refreshingly, the author’s lens is not uncritical: He writes of a still-relevant church, as diverse as the Black experience itself, with struggles and failings, including its treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community and its dismal response to the 1980s AIDS epidemic. The book also includes generous photos, an engrossing epilogue revealing Gates’ personal religious experiences alongside additional research, and chapter-heading quotes from W.E.B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and other Black icons.
Powerful, poignant, and ultimately celebratory. Let the church say, “Amen!”
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 304
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021