How I Got Over: The Resilience of the Black Church

How I Got Over: The Resilience of the Black Church

Church History

Many of us would agree that enduring in the face of trials is one of the pillars of our Christian faith.

Scripture repeatedly tells us that God walks with us through the fire—strengthening and refining us—as opposed to yanking us from it. And if there is any entity in the United States that has exemplified what it means to remain resilient in the face of obstacles, it is the Black Church.

Resilience means having the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty—the ability to spring back into shape. And over the past 400 years, Black people have found ways to not only recover from the ramifications of slavery but thrive and keep the faith. Recently, I watched the AND Campaign’s How I Got Over, a five-part documentary series on the history of the Black Church. They highlight how the Black Church has shown resilience through a long history of obstacles. Let’s look at three examples from their series of ways the Black Church has exemplified what it means to never give up on God.

Origins of the Black Church

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”—Booker T. Washington

The documentary discusses the founding of The Black Church and its many denominations. The Black Church at its conception began because of longstanding racism and segregation—even within Christian institutions. The first Black denomination (AME) was created because white Christians refused to worship alongside Black Christians. And instead of using their rejection as a reason to give up on God, Black Christians showed resilience by clinging to their convictions and pursuing him further.

It would have been easy for any of them to give up—to decide that choosing a different God or a different faith would be more liberating. But when they decided to form their own denominations to continue their worship, they not only displayed God’s impact in their lives, but also revealed a conviction in their hearts that kept them moving toward the cross instead of running from it. They created and sang Negro Spirituals. They formed new churches. They embraced the stories of deliverance, justice, and freedom found in Scripture.

They kept going.

The Public Witness of the Black Church

“When the Black Church at its best is the public face of the witness of love and justice, it will be targeted.” —Cornel West

In How I Got Over, we also learn about the significance of the Black Church in the civil rights movement and how Black leaders used their faith in Christ to influence the secular world. Justin Giboney says in this episode, “For Black Church leaders, the gospel was more than a call to action—it was the theme music of the civil rights movement.”

The civil rights movement not only depended on the Black Church but also made huge progress because of it. The church served as a launching pad for many leaders, groups, and rallies. Going to church wasn’t just for spiritual nourishment in this era—political meetings happened at church, resources were mobilized there, and rallies and marches set their meeting points at churches. In addition, Black clergy and church leaders were some of the first Black people to hold positions in government. Black preachers served as politicians, and Black Christians, like Fannie Lou Hamer, fought against voter suppression motivated by strong biblical convictions.

Even though the public witness of Black Christians sparked more obstacles—like the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama in 1963 and many others like it—they harnessed their righteous anger to remain resilient, which eventually resulted in successes like the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Black Christian leaders knew that there was no need to separate the message of the gospel from the fight for justice and equality because taking the gospel seriously and standing on authoritative, biblical ideals meant standing against oppression and racism.

Education and the Black Church

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How I Got Over highlights a few of the different ways that the Black Church opened doors for educational opportunities in the Black community. I don’t know about you but I love school. And being a Black woman, I frequently find myself thanking God for the opportunity to learn from prestigious institutions because I know that it’s due to the determination of those who came before me. Education for Black people was illegal and dangerous for most of American history. And yet, despite being pushed out of opportunities left and right, they prevailed.

One of the main priorities that Black people pursued after emancipation was their education. And during this time, the Black Church provided opportunities for the Black community to learn in a safe and familiar environment. Over time, they were able to advance through the educational system and take advantage of vocational schools, colleges, and graduate schools.

Black people had the determination to take back their dignity and become educated members of society. They used the forced segregation from schools and educational systems to their advantage, creating and funding their own schools, universities, and carving out ways to educate themselves and prove those in power wrong.

All in all, the Black Church has contributed to the faith in many ways, but more than anything, the Black Church is an example of resilience despite the odds set against it. As believers, we know that God has called us to endure, and for the Black Church, endurance is at the foundation of its existence and the reason why it continues to thrive.

As we celebrate Black History Month, consider watching The AND Campaign’s How I Got Over, a documentary exploring the history and resilience of the Black Church and the impact it’s made in the public square and the education system. The series has five episodes full of information, history, and inspiring stories. You can also click here to learn more about the AND Campaign.
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Alyssa Gossom

Writer, RightNow Media

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