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Identify four characteristics of African tribal religion that have influenced Black American spirituality

1. Identify four characteristics of African tribal religion that have influenced Black American spirituality.


2. According to W.E.B. Dubois what are the three unique elements of Black American spirituality. How would you explain each of them?


3. After listening to the two assigned songs by DMX and Kirk Franklin, do a little research and find at least one other song in the Rap/Hip-hop genre that show the influence of Black spirituality on the song.


4. What does Henry Louis Gates meant when he writes: “For a people systematically brutalized and debased by the inhumane system of human slavery, followed by a century of Jim Crow racism, the church provided a refuge: a place of racial and individual self-affirmation, of teaching and learning, of psychological and spiritual suspense, of prophetic faith; a symbolic space where Black people, enslaved and free, could nurture the hope for a better today and a much better tomorrow”? What role did music play, and what musical genres emerged from this music?





Read & Review




Chapter 1 of Diana Hays, Forged in the Fiery Furnace, “What Is Africa To Me.pdf”

Introduction and Epilogue from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Black Church



The history behind the song, Strange Fruit (Links to an external site.)

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “The Black Church Episode 1″ (Links to an external site.), Episode 1” on PBS

Kirk Franklin, “Strong God” (Links to an external site.)

“DMX “Ready to Meet Him (Links to an external site.)”





Participate in Unit 12 discussion and reply to one classmate by Nov 28.



Learning Outcomes


Students will have mastered the material in the module when they can:


Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which African American Spirituality has its roots in African tribal religion

Explain W.E.B. Dubois three elements of African American Spirituality

Cite ways in which Black religion has shaped musical genres such as Gospel, Spirituals, Blues, Hip-Hop and Rap

Recognize the ways in which Black Music has contributed to the struggle for racial equality



W.E.B. Dubois

Kirk Franklin




Rights of Passage

The Black Church

AME Churchan





This week we will explore the meaning of the term “The Black Church” and its roots in African tribal religion. Music has always been an important element in the experience of the Black Church and has contributed to the emergence of uniquely American music genres such as Jazz, Blues, and Hip-hop. A famous quote from W.E.B. Dubois’ famous work, The Souls of Black Folk summarizes well the important characteristics of Black spirituality.


It was out in the country, far from home, far from my foster home, on a dark Sunday night. The road wandered from our rambling log-house up the stony bed of a creek, past wheat and corn, until we could hear dimly across the fields a rhythmic cadence of song,–soft, thrilling, powerful, that swelled and died sorrowfully in our ears. I was a country schoolteacher then, fresh from the East, and had never seen a Southern Negro revival. To be sure, we in Berkshire were not perhaps as stiff and formal as they in Suffolk of olden time; yet we were very quiet and subdued, and I know not what would have happened those clear Sabbath mornings had someone punctuated the sermon with a wild scream, or interrupted the long prayer with a loud Amen! And so most striking to me, as I approached the village and the little plain church perched aloft, was the air of intense excitement that possessed that mass of black folk. A sort of suppressed terror hung in the air and seemed to seize us,–a pythian madness, a demoniac possession, that lent terrible reality to song and word. The black and massive form of the preacher swayed and quivered as the words crowded to his lips and flew at us in singular eloquence. The people moaned and fluttered, and then the gaunt-cheeked brown woman beside me suddenly leaped straight into the air and shrieked like a lost soul, while round about came wail and groan and outcry and a scene of human passion such as I had never conceived before.


Those who have not thus witnessed the frenzy of a Negro revival in the untouched backwoods of the South can but dimly realize the religious feeling of the slave; as described, such scenes appear grotesque and funny, but as seen they are awful. Three things characterized this religion of the slave, –the Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy. The Preacher is the most unique personality developed by the Negro on Amer- ican soil. A leader, a politician, an orator, a “boss,” an intriguer, an idealist,–all these he is, and ever, too, the centre of a group of men, now twenty, now a thousand in number. The combination of a certain adroitness with deep- seated earnestness, of tact with consummate ability, gave him his preeminence, and helps him maintain it. The type, of course, varies according to time and place, from the West Indies in the sixteenth century to New England in the nine- teenth, and from the Mississippi bottoms to cities like New Orleans or New York.


The Music of Negro religion is that plaintive rhythmic melody, with its touching minor cadences, which, despite caricature and defilement, still remains the most original and beautiful expression of human life and longing yet born on American soil. Sprung from the African forests, where its counterpart can still be heard, it was adapted, changed, and intensified by the tragic soul-life of the slave, until, under the stress of law and whip, it became the one true expression of a people’s sorrow, despair, and hope. Finally the Frenzy of “Shouting,” when the Spirit of the Lord passed by, and, seizing the devotee, made him mad with supernatural joy, was the last essential of Negro religion and the one more devoutly believed in than all the rest. It varied in expression from the silent rapt countenance or the low murmur and moan to the mad abandon of physical fervor, –the stamping, shrieking, and shouting, the rushing to and fro and wild waving of arms, the weeping and laughing, the vision and the trance. All this is nothing new in the world, but old as religion, as Delphi and Endor. And so firm a hold did it have on the Negro, that many generations firmly be- lieved that without this visible manifestation of the God there could be no true communion with the Invisible.




On music, Bishop T.D. Jakes has said: “The singing of the wounded soul goes all the way back to the soils of Africa. We have always been people that have sang out into the wind and exhaled what hurt us.”

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