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Shades of Black: Ethnic Diversity in Black American Religious Life


Shades of Black: Ethnic Diversity in Black American Religious Life

*This post is part of our online forum with the Pew Research Center.

Archdiocese of Boston Black Catholic Choir performed at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Worcester, MA, on March 6, 2011 (Shutterstock/ L.A. Faille)

Church Avenue is a vibrant commercial artery through Little Caribbean, a neighborhood with the largest concentration of Black Caribbean immigrants in New York City. Brooklyn gained its reputation as the borough of churches, a designation compromised by high rates of gentrification. It’s Sunday. I walk alongside families and individuals young and old headed towards their place of worship. The recorded audio of chapel bells from the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church competes with the tinny drum cymbals and praise hymns funneled through the narrow doorways of storefront churches. This is the soundscape for churchgoing on any given Sunday in Brooklyn, NY. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked, “Sundays at noon is the most segregated hour in the U.S.” The Pew Research Center’s report “Faith Among Black Americans” is a window to the religious life of America’s darker hues. Historically, the report is not the first national mixed-method survey on the subject. In 1903, Black sociologist W.E.B. Dubois (along with Mary Church Terrell and Kelly Miller) published a report titled “The Negro Church” a sociological study on the “…religion of Negroes and its influence on their moral habits.” It included quantitative and anecdotal data on Black congregational life from census records, population studies, and local histories. It profiled the financial health of mainline Protestant denominations, members’ experiences of congregational life, their attitudes towards church leadership, and the extent to which the church responded to the pressing needs of Black people at the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, the core concerns of that time surrounded the problem of the color line and its impact on the lives of formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants. The defining features of the Black Church– the foundation of which was laid in the hush harbors, segregated pews, and revival…

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