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Article

Edmund Abaka

The ancestors are those who have departed and joined those who had departed earlier for the world of the dead. They constitute the linchpin of African traditional religion. It is to the ancestors that the living look for succour in times of trouble, favor in the event of adversity and difficulties, and blessings whenever a new enterprise is to be undertaken. The ancestors are venerated, not worshipped, for the help that they provide to the living. Specific festivals such as the Adae of the Akan of Ghana are designed to propitiate the ancestors.

In African traditional religion the Supreme Being ranks first among all powers The Supreme Being is given various names in various societies Second in the hierarchy are the deities or the lesser gods who are considered messengers or vice regents of the Supreme Being They represent various manifestations of the Supreme Being and do his bidding Although ...

Article

Kathryn Lofton

During the early decades of the nineteenth century many American Christians advocated the virtues of Sabbath observance. These Sabbatarians opposed the desecration of the first day—that is, Sunday—and sought to make this religious observance a federal law. Antisabbatarianism emerged in response to this movement, objecting primarily to the invasion of theological opinion into democratic politics.

Throughout the seventeenth century the Sabbath had been enforced by the theocracies formed by AngloAmerican colonialism For strict Sabbatarians the Sabbath provided time for contemplation and the ritual celebration of American divine election During the eighteenth century the legality of Sabbath enforcement was put into doubt by the constitutional separation of church and state increased diversity in the colonies necessitated federal acquiescence and theocratic dissimilation By the close of the Revolutionary War few Sabbath laws remained intact However as the colonies slowly melded into the United States Christian leaders were increasingly concerned that the power ...

Article

Funso Afolayan

The word àṣộ (or àshe.) among the Yoruba-speaking people of West Africa and of the African Diaspora in the Americas and other places, means “power,” “authority,” “command,” “energy,” or “life force.” The concept of àṣộ is an affective, foundational, albeit enigmatic, principle that informs religious, social, political, artistic, and philosophical discourses among the Yoruba. Àṣẹ is believed to originate from Olodumare, the Supreme Being of the Yoruba. As the bestower of life and virtue, Olodumare is the very embodiment of àṣộ. As a vital energy, àṣộ sustains all things, whether animate or inanimate, deities, spirits, ancestors, humans, animals, plants, rivers, mountains, rocks, caves, and many more. Intangible and intractable voiced words, eye flashes, a wink, a wave of the hand, and other visual and voiced expressions, such as songs, praises, incantations, chants, curses, and everyday conversations, become powerful and potent as a result of their infusion with àṣộ ...

Article

Anja Schüler

Throughout its history the black community in the United States has been faced with the daunting task of improving the economic and social status of its members in a society pervaded by racism. Black Americans, like other groups in American society, were determined to solve this problem by taking matters into their own hands. In developing self-help programs they both used already existing agencies, such as schools and churches, and also established new ones, such as mutual aid societies and business leagues. From Reconstruction to the 1930s, black churches, fraternal orders, and mutual aid societies were a chief resource that ensured the social, economic, and academic endurance of many black families.

Throughout the nineteenth century churches had been an important venue for the social and cultural life of African Americans Pressured by an increasingly progressive membership many churches started to spawn agencies of self help around the turn of the ...

Article

Matthew Dennis

The inescapable culmination of life is mortality, and every community must deal with the death of its members, marking the event appropriately, disposing respectfully of mortal remains, offering condolence to the living, and returning life among survivors to normal. Few human communities have faced greater challenges in this regard than those African Americans enslaved in North America, as well as free blacks, during the colonial and early national periods. African American mortuary practices preserved, synthesized, and reworked African traditions and adapted New World customs imported to America by white European Christian colonists.

There is much about which we cannot be certain given the limited records and archaeological evidence available to us and considerable diversity characterized the people of African descent throughout North America during this era But it is clear that African American funerals and interments were creative hybrid practices expressions of African American culture that signaled the worth and ...

Article

N. Gregson Davis

Aimé Césaire (1913–2008) was a major literary figure, statesman, and intellectual leader, both in the francophone Antilles and in the international arena, from the middle of the twentieth century. As a young social activist, he played a formative role in the articulation of the seminal concept of négritude, a neologism that he is credited with having invented. As literary artist he has achieved global recognition for his poetry and lyric drama in signal ways; for example, his lyric volume Corps Perdu (Lost Body) was published in a deluxe edition with illustrations by Pablo Picasso in 1950; several of his poetry collections won literary prizes in metropolitan France (e.g., the Prix René Laporte for Ferrements [1960], and the Grand Prix National de la Poésie for moi, laminaire … [1982]). La Tragédie du roi Christophe The Tragedy of King Christophe a play based ...

Article

Samson Fatokun

Most African traditional cosmological myths present the Supreme Being as the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth. African creation stories vary, however, in content from one culture to another. Common to all is the notion of the Supreme Deity as the Creator par excellence. The creative power of the Supreme Being is often reflected in the different names with which this Being is called. For instance, the Mende of Sierra Leone call this Being Ngewo. The name carries the meaning of “the Eternal One who rules from above,” and in that capacity the Being through whom all things came into being. The Akan and Ga of Ghana call Him Onyame and Nyonmo, respectively, meaning the “Bright, glorious God of heaven and earth, who is before and above all things,” or simply put, “the God of fullness or God of satisfaction” (Awolalu and Dopamu, pp. 42–43).

The names ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

the son of a Revolutionary War veteran of the same name, was born in Wolcott, Connecticut, and served as the first clerk of the African Ecclesiastical Society in New Haven. Although sparse and sometimes conflicting accounts in published literature have confounded records of the father and son, recently genealogical research in Tompkins County, New York, has clearly identified and distinguished the two from original records.

On 18 July 1756 “Prince, the negro servant child of Samuel Riggs & Abigail his wife” was baptized, according to church records in Derby, Connecticut. Although the word “slave” was not routinely used during that period, he was a servant “for life,” valued at £50, and was inherited at Rigg's death by his daughter Abigail, married to a Reverend Mr. Chapman. Duplex enlisted 18 May 1777 in one of the Connecticut regiments commanded by Colonel Sherman and Colonel Giles Russell formed to fight ...

Article

Isidore Lobnibe

Festivals have long been at the center of African cultural and social life. At the core of African social experience and indigenous knowledge systems are ceremonial events designed to mark critical moments such as the birth of a child, puberty or initiation into adulthood and secret society, marriage, and death. Since precolonial times, many Africans have celebrated Id al-fitr and Id al-kabir, Muslim gift-giving festivals that they embraced following the nineteenth-century West African Islamic Jihads. Calendric times are also marked by agricultural seasons, or taboo periods for the consumption of certain food products, to celebrate, ritualize, and privately or publicly mark the moment, with suitable observances to either pay homage to an individual or impress the significance of the dead and living members of the community (Turner).

The esoteric and sacred rituals displayed in African festivals have been documented in early nineteenth century European explorers chronicles missionary reports and ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

minister and youngest daughter of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was born Bernice Albertine King in Atlanta, Georgia. The youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, she was named after both her maternal and paternal grandmothers, Alberta Williams King and Bernice McMurray. One of the most memorable images of young King was a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of her as a sad girl leaning on her mother during her father's funeral taken by Moneta Sleet Jr. and published in Ebony magazine In the shadow of her father s murder their mother covered King and her siblings protectively as she promoted her husband s legacy Every attempt was made to provide a normal upbringing for her and the other three King children The strength of her family history propelled her desire to chart her professional course in life so ...

Article

Magic  

Elias Bongmba

Magic refers to practices, rites, and chants carried out to influence outcomes that either positively or negatively affect events, objects, persons, or a community. The practices of magic in some societies are associated with shamans, sorcerers, and sometimes healers. Magic has been associated with witchcraft, divination, necromancy, theurgy, evocation of spirits, and the use of talismans. The tools of magic vary from region to region.

Magic and Religion. Magic has had an interesting relationship with religion and religious communities In the Hebrew Bible magical arts for the most part are condemned Christian theologians like Tertullian c 200 and Origen 185 254 condemned magic as the work of the devil and Saint Augustine 354 430 considered pagan activities as inspired by demons even if he did not address the belief that magical stones magnets had some power Despite the theological bias against magic magical literature continued to grow and to ...

Article

In any effort to understand how African peoples explain the world belief in magic sorcery and witchcraft is critically important But these three terms have extremely wide ranges of meanings and whenever any one of them is encountered care should be taken to ascertain exactly what is meant They can mean any religious acts or beliefs that the user of the term does not understand or of which he or she disapproves A common meaning of any of them is spirit invocation and command The terms often equate with superstition they are frequently used to relate to a savage or primitive past sometimes expressed in the pidgin term juju and they are used pejoratively They may even equate with satanic diabolic evil Such negative usages are unfortunate for they obscure some very deep and very strong cosmological and etiological systems of belief Moreover African beliefs in magic sorcery and witchcraft ...

Article

The understanding of African-based belief systems in the Americas is hampered by misunderstanding of different phenomena and misapplication of terms to designate them. It is also hampered by an underappreciation of the nature of the many and various cultural influences—African, European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Native American—that underwent selective combination from the earliest years of Atlantic slavery in the process known as Syncretism. This essay aims to clarify these issues, with specific reference to three of the most widely misunderstood concepts: magic, sorcery, and witchcraft. For fuller treatment of these terms in their African context, see Magic, Sorcery, and Witchcraft in Africa.

In African and African American scholarship these terms should designate quite distinct beliefs and behaviors having very different underlying premises But both within and beyond academia they are often used interchangeably and all of them have been applied to other phenomena for example spirit invocation trance and ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was born Charles Wesley Mossell in Baltimore, Maryland, the eldest son of Aaron Mossell and Eliza Bowers Mossell, free African American residents of that city. Aaron Mossell was a skilled brickmaker. Charles moved with his parents and oldest sister Mary to Canada in 1853, where he and Mary completed the lower grades of public school. Aaron Mossell established his own business in Hamilton, Ontario, where the family's most famous son, Nathan Francis Mossell, was born, as well as the youngest son, Aaron Jr. and younger daughter Alveretta. By 1865 the family had moved to Lockport, New York, where by 1870 Aaron Mossell owned $2,000 in real estate, including his brick-making business and the family home, and $300 in personal property.

Mossell graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1871 The same year he assisted his younger siblings ...

Primary Source

Whereas many fugitive slaves were able to find a place of greater safety in the North, others ran further—some to Canada and some even to England. This was the fate of James Watkins, born into slavery near Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1821. Watkins’ narrative, published in 1852, relates his life of forced servitude, his conversion to Christianity, and his various escapes from slavery and from the clutches of slave hunters operating under the fugitive slave law. Fearing for his family’s continued safety, Watkins travels to England, where he finds much sympathy for abolitionist cause.

By the early 1850s the use of slave narratives as weapons in the abolitionist arsenal was a well established fact Such pieces were used not only to generate revenue for the continuation of the cause but also to elicit sympathy and support on behalf of the slaves and their allies in the official sectors of American life ...

Article

Edward E. Andrews

slave, renowned pastry maker, and entrepreneur, also referred to as “Charity,” was born on the Gold Coast of Africa to a minor royal family. In the middle of the eighteenth century she was taken captive, sold into slavery, and transported to Newport, Rhode Island, where she became a domestic slave in the home of William Channing, a prominent attorney.

Like many of that port town s female slaves Quamino would have been responsible for a variety of activities that maintained the household One job in which she excelled early was baking a skill which would hold her in good stead in later years The historical record does not indicate what kind of personal relationship Quamino had with her master but it is significant that she converted to Christianity while working and living with the Channing family Her exact motives for doing so are not certain she ...

Article

Arthuree McLaughlin Wright

clubwoman, and civic leader, was born to Jackson and Beattie Connor (or Conner), former slaves. The Connors moved their ten children to Selma, Ohio, where Emma attended school. Details of her early life are sketchy, but as a young adult, Emma Connor worked as a teacher and was active in the local African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. In 1886 Emma met Reverdy Cassius Ransom, a senior at Wilberforce University, when he was appointed student pastor at the Selma church. He and Emma were married in Selma on 27 October 1887, and she joined him in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where he was assigned a pastorate. The following year, their infant son died a few hours after he was born. A second son, named for his father, was born 2 September 1889. Reverend Ransom's son from a first marriage, Harold moved in with them after Reverdy ...

Article

David Michel

minister and social activist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and during his childhood lived in Chicago, Illinois, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His Pentecostal mother was a nurse and his Muslim father a painter. Rivers's parents separated when he was three, and he was reared by his mother. While living in Philadelphia during his teenage years, Rivers joined a gang whose leaders constantly harassed him. In 1963 he responded to a message delivered by the Reverend Billy Graham through the Hour of Decision radio program. Consequently Rivers joined Deliverance Evangelistic Church, pastored by the Reverend Benjamin Smith. Smith helped Rivers get out of gang life and counseled him in many ways.

In 1968 Rivers won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts College studies opened a new world for Rivers who had by then become estranged from Smith The young Rivers had observed the activism of the ...

Article

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

minister, musician, and photographer, was born in Bayou Rapides, Louisiana, to Irene Lair and Giuseppe “Joe” Nasello. Nasello, who immigrated to the United States from his native Sicily in 1901, owned a dry goods store in Alexandria, Louisiana, that Willie remembered visiting with his mother from time to time. However, Joe Nasello had another family, and given the mores of the time, “Papa” Joe never acknowledged the two children he fathered with Irene. (A daughter, Alice, was born in 1912.) Although Joe Nasello lived until 1958, it appears that father and son never met face to face nor openly acknowledged their relationship. Seals talked freely yet sparingly of his paternity, and he jokingly noted to his children that he was an “Italian.”

According to Willie, “Seals” was a made-up name that he took from Lucille Ceil a favorite grade school teacher ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

In a system where mobility, marriage, employment, housing, food, and clothing were all regulated by slave owners, religion was the slaves' only form of expression that was not totally under white control. Consequently, religion played a central role in the lives of slaves. Slave congregations became new versions of the African village, with the slave preacher serving as chief, Griot, and even doctor. Religious meetings provided important ritual communal opportunities for African American slaves to worship in ways that connected them to African traditions, while also creating, over time, a new belief system adapted to their lives in the Americas. Religion gave individual slaves a sense of their place in the world, a sense of their worth, and a life-sustaining faith in a better future.

Some masters organized mandatory Christian church services in the hope Christian slaves would be more docile Some allowed slaves to hold their own services ...