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In his famous work The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois writes extensively (especially in Chapter 7) about the so-called “Black Belt” and about the importance of churches in that region of the South.
Among other things, Du Bois says the following concerning churches in the Black Belt:
- The church was often both literally and figuratively central to the community, as Du Bois suggests when he says of one church,
it is the centre of a hundred cabin homes; and sometimes, of a Sunday, five hundred persons from far and near gather here and talk and eat and sing.
- As the preceding quotation implies, the church was important not only religiously but also in promoting a sense of communal fellowship, or shared belonging.
- In the Black Belt, the church was also often a center of education. As Du Bois puts it, “usually the school is held in the church.”
- Churches could vary in size from the very small to the fairly large, but always they were important parts of the community.
- Later in the book, Du Bois suggests that the kind of religious services practiced in rural black churches (presumably including those in the Black Belt) was often intense and enthusiastic. Music and the preacher (he says) played very important parts in such services.
- The preacher, Du Bois notes, was often an extremely significant member of the community – a highly influential leader:
The Preacher is the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American 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.
- In addition, Du Bois contends that 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.
Thus the church in the Black Belt and in other rural areas of the African-American South helped foster community, education, leadership, and artistic achievement.
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