Passionately Human, No Less Divine

Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952

Wallace D. Best
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Passionately Human, No Less Divine
    Book Description:

    The Great Migration was the most significant event in black life since emancipation and Reconstruction. Passionately Human, No Less Divine analyzes the various ways black southerners transformed African American religion in Chicago during their Great Migration northward. A work of religious, urban, and social history, it is the first book-length analysis of the new religious practices and traditions in Chicago that were stimulated by migration and urbanization.

    The book illustrates how the migration launched a new sacred order among blacks in the city that reflected aspects of both Southern black religion and modern city life. This new sacred order was also largely female as African American women constituted more than 70 percent of the membership in most black Protestant churches.

    Ultimately, Wallace Best demonstrates how black southerners imparted a folk religious sensibility to Chicago's black churches. In doing so, they ironically recast conceptions of modern, urban African American religion in terms that signified the rural past. In the same way that working class cultural idioms such as jazz and the blues emerged in the secular arena as a means to represent black modernity, he says, African American religion in Chicago, with its negotiation between the past, the present, rural and urban, revealed African American religion in modern form.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4934-5
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    (pp. 1-12)

    The history of African Americans is in large part a religious history. It is a story deeply anchored in themes of captivity, exile, enslavement, and deliverance.¹ It is an account of a diasporic people that closely follows the historical narrative of the Hebrews of Old Testament scripture. Indeed, the affinity of the slave experience to that of the Hebrews of the Old Testament is a major reason many slaves in the United States embraced the Exodus story. The captivity and subsequent deliverance of the Children of Israel seemed an ancient account of the slave’s lived experience and cherished hopes. Many...

  9. CHAPTER ONE “Mecca of the Migrant Mob”
    (pp. 13-34)

    One of the most profound commentaries on twentieth-century African American religion appeared in a most unlikely place. In 1929, the Reverend Lacey Kirk Williams wrote an editorial for the Chicago Tribune, where he made a direct connection between urbanization, the northward migration of black southerners, modernity, and religious change. Titled “The Urbanization of Negroes; Effect on Their Religious Life,” the editorial publicly acknowledged that the Great Migration had extended its sphere of influence to what was seemingly immutable in black life, African American religion. In language worthy of the well-educated minister and seasoned orator that he was, Williams addressed what...

  10. CHAPTER TWO The South in the City
    (pp. 35-70)

    The death of Julius Nelthropp Avendorph in 1923 marked the end of an era in black Chicago. Having come from Mobile, Alabama, in 1884, Avendorph by the time of his passing was “one of the best known men” within the city’s African American social circles. No social gathering of any note was complete without the presence of this meticulous man of style and manners. Debuts and “coming out” parties were deemed failures if Avendorph could not be secured as master of ceremonies. In his role as the “social arbiter of Chicago colored society,” Avendorph edited the society page of the...

  11. CHAPTER THREE Southern Migrants and the New Sacred Order
    (pp. 71-93)

    The Great Migration constituted the most significant event in black American life since the emancipation and Reconstruction. As early as 1917, the journalist and author Ray Stannard Baker deemed it the “most noteworthy” occurrence in black life. The historian August Meier, writing years later, considered the migration “after emancipation . . . the great watershed in American Negro history.”¹ In many ways, the geographic and social mobility afforded by the migration resulted from these previous events. But in terms of its immediate impact on the entirety of black life, the Great Migration was equally important, and more so in many...

  12. CHAPTER FOUR The Frenzy, the Preacher, and the Music
    (pp. 94-117)

    As the number of southern migrants who attended mainline black Chicago churches surged, the worship patterns of those churches altered significantly. Indeed, with changes to the worship in mainstream black churches, the impact of black southerners on these congregations was complete. Southern migrants were fattening church rolls and exhausting as well as expanding financial and programmatic resources. They were also prompting a reconceptualization of the notion of church work through social service and alliances with the wider world. The capstone to all this transformation was how southern migrants helped shape the ways and means by which the faithful praised God....

  13. CHAPTER FIVE The Chicago African Methodist Episcopal Church in Crisis
    (pp. 118-146)

    In his classic book of essays, Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in 1903 that the African Methodist Episcopal Church was “the greatest Negro organization in the World.”¹ Though he often waxed critical of black ministers throughout his long career, Du Bois maintained respect for black churches.² His admiration for the AME Church was not misplaced, although that admiration was based more on perception than reality. At the turn of the century, many (like Du Bois) perceived the AME Church to be “the greatest” black organization in America largely because of its influential and publicly visible...

  14. CHAPTER SIX A Woman’s Work, an Urban World
    (pp. 147-180)

    It was clear from the start that the migration would significantly alter the lives of African American women. Although black women in the South had been moving out of their homes to find work since the end of slavery, the vast majority remained in farm labor or domestic service. They also maintained minimal, prescribed contact with whites. In the urban North, however, more black women found themselves in greater proximity to whites on city streets and public transport. They also found themselves in a wider range of jobs. While most, particularly those recently from the rural South, worked as domestics,...

    (pp. 181-190)

    After elder lucy smith died in her home on South Parkway following a brief illness in 1952, her funeral became one of the largest in the history of black Chicago. It was nothing short of phenomenal. Arguably, not since the race riots of 1919 had an event captivated the minds of so many black Chicagoans and elicited such an outpouring of emotion. Sixty thousand people made their way to view the body, which lay in state for two days at the A. A. Rayner Chapel on Cottage Grove Avenue. Four hundred policemen had been assigned by the city to maintain...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 191-194)

    The church that I for many years called my home church still sits outside Washington, D.C. In recent years, it has built a larger and much grander edifice that literally adorns the lower-middle-class neighborhood in which it is situated. Because of its many years of service to the surrounding community, the church maintains a high status. The pastor, who as a boy conducted funerals for the dead animals on his family’s farm, has also increased in stature. Not only is he a dominant force in the Free Will Baptist Conference, local officials and civic leaders also seek his sanction and...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 195-238)
  18. Index
    (pp. 239-250)