Black Americans, history and religion

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Rev.Martin Luther King Jr.: "I Have a Dream" (1963)

Vice News declares:

The 60s Civil Rights Movement has closely been linked with religion: Malcolm Little didn't become Malcolm X and then el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz without Islam, and Martin Luther King Jr. often has "reverend" prefixed on his name. Churches have long been the black community's safe space in a Eurocentric nation, and even the Black American National Anthem—which, by virtue of being a "national anthem," is supposed to be a holistic proclamation of a population's hopes—has strong Christian overtones. So to most people, you're not black and religious, because to be black in America is to be religious.

But the States are still centered on Judeo-Christian beliefs, so black atheists face additional isolation. Being a black atheist gives white believers looking to discriminate another thing to hate, because "Christianity is American." Being a black atheist also makes them an anomaly to the black theist majority. And while the predominantly white atheist groups might welcome a black face, many black atheists feel their voices are obscured. Black atheist must find a way to navigate these issues while living in a country that isn't exactly inclusive towards them.[1]

See also: Sociology of "atheism is un-American" view

The website indicates:

Christianity has played a central role in African-American life from the late 18th century to the present. Black churches raised funds for fugitive slaves, served as schoolhouses, and provided space for political meetings and activities, among other functions. Leaders of black congregations such as Richard Allen or Daniel Payne were often leaders of the broader black community. The spiritual messages of redemption and justice appealed to a people who experienced the brutality of slavery and the indignities of Jim Crow segregation laws.[2]

Abolitionist movement and religious conservatives

See also: Atheism and slavery and Atheism and forced labor

The African-American author and political columnist Thomas Sowell wrote:

While slavery was common to all civilizations, as well as to peoples considered uncivilized, only one civilization developed a moral revulsion against it, very late in hits history…not even the leading moralists in other civilizations rejected slavery at all…. Moreover, within Western civilization, the principle impetus for the abolition of slavery came first from very conservative religious activists – people who would today be called ‘the religious right.’…this story is not ‘politically correct’ in today’s terms. Hence it is ignored, as if it never happened.”[3]

See also:

Black Americans and evangelical Christianity

See also: Evangelical Christianity and Growth of evangelical Christianity

The article: Religion in African American History by Judith Weisenfeld indicates:

The evangelical revivals of the Great Awakening beginning in the 1740s set the context for the conversion of enslaved African Americans and provided theological resources for the development of African American Christianity. Responding to evangelicalism’s emphasis on individual spiritual transformation accessible to all as the key to conversion rather than memorization of doctrine mediated through clergy, many African Americans joined the enthusiastic worship of the revivals and embraced Christianity. The ranks of the evangelical Baptists and Methodists grew through the spread of the revivals and, motivated by a commitment to spiritual equality, some white Baptists and Methodists questioned the moral grounds of slavery.[4]

Religion and Africa

See also: Religion and Africa

The Freedom From Religion Foundation reported:

A new study conducted by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says that Africans are among the most religious people on Earth. The study, titled “Tension and Tolerance: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa,” was based on more than 25,000 interviews conducted in more than 60 languages in 19 countries...

At least three out of 10 people across much of Africa said they have experienced divine healing, seen the devil being driven out of a person or have received a direct revelation from God. [5]

Black Americans, religion and atheism

See also: Black atheism

As far as black atheism, in 2017, the article What It’s Like to Be Black and Atheist published in The Daily Beast, states:

Past studies of African Americans and faith show that at they are demographically (87 percent) the most religious group in the nation. Additionally, other studies have shown that 87 percent of black women rank as the most religious in America. Additionally, she notes, “the number of blacks and other ‘minorities’ who openly identify as atheist, while growing, are still small.”[6]

Black atheists and loneliness

See also: Western atheism and race and Atheism and loneliness

National Public Radio interviewed the African-American atheist Jamila Bey and the host of the interview said:

...for a couple of centuries, African-American culture has been imbued with Christianity. The church figured prominently in both the abolitionist and civil rights movements. And today in many communities, the Christian church continues to be the nucleus of black life.

So, what about the black nonbelievers? It's one isolating experience, according to Jamila Bey.[7]

See also


  1. Black Atheists Explain What It's Like to Be a 'Double Minority'
  2. Black atheists matter: how women freethinkers take on religion by Cristopher Cameron
  3. Sowell, Thomas (2005) The real history of slavery. In Black Rednecks and White Liberals. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books
  4. Religion in African American History by Judith Weisenfeld
  5. Why so many Africans are religious: Leo Igwe
  6. [What It’s Like to Be Black and Atheist], Daily Beast, 2017
  7. Black Atheists Say Non-Belief Means Cultural Outsider, NPR, May 28, 201012:00 PM ET