An analysis of Black Identity, Politics, and Religion
Prior to the Civil War and Reconstruction, the main goal of the African American population was to be granted freedom. African Americans had been enslaved since 1619 in America, when the first slaves were sold on the auction block. However, their concepts of freedom were extremely romanticized and highly unrealistic as a direct result of the atrocities they witnessed and endured in the institution of slavery. They visualized the abolition of slavery to be comparable with the coming of Jesus Christ. Yet when politics made that day become reality on January 1, 1863, the newly freed men and women were utterly disappointed and in disarray.
After living their lives under the institution of slavery, the former slaves were literally left to survive on their own without the proper tools such as opportunities, provisions, or education. This race of people, for whom it was illegal to learn to read or write and even to congregate in groups of three or more, was now released into the same society that had enslaved them, and which was now supposed to open its arms and accept them as equals. Along with this freedom came a sudden change in identity, a clinging to faith, and a supposed new placement within society.
The Negro became in the first year contraband of war; that is, property belonging to the enemy and valuable to the invader. And in addition to that, he became, as the South quickly saw, the key to Southern resistance. Either these four million laborers remained quietly at work to raise food for their fighters, or the fighter starved.
Simultaneously, when the dream of the North for man-power produced riots, the only additional troops that the North could depend on were 200,000 Negroes, for without them, as Lincoln said, the North could not have won the war. (DuBois, 80)
In spite of this, the treatment of African Americans from slavery to freedom could only be thought of as different according to the law because conceptually the two identities, slave and free, closely parallel each other even today.
Survival was a key element for the lives of African Americans during slavery. Its guiding principle was the ability to endure the oppression to secure the continuation of the race. Slaves recognized that adaptation to the new environment and culture in the New World would be the main factor for their ability to stay alive. They began this adaptation process, called survival faith, by creating a sub-culture which merged traditional African practices with those the slaves were forced to adopt from their masters.
The African slaves brought with them all of their African traditions but were suppressed from utilizing them in their original fashion. Therefore, they merged remnants of African cultures including the great Bantu tribes from Sierra Leone to South Africa; the Sudanese, straight across the center of the continent, from the Atlantic to the Valley of the Nile; the Nilotic Negroes and the black and brown Hamites, allied with Egypt; the tribes of the great lakes; the Pygmies and the Hottentots; and in addition to these, distinct traces of both Berber and Arab (DuBois, 3) with those remnants of European and Native American cultures. This new culture was comprised of dance, rhythmic music, folk traditions and values, religious beliefs, food and its preparation, cultivation of crops, herbal medicines, socialization of children, philosophy of respect for elders, oral traditions, etc. Within each aspect of the new African American culture, survival was somehow intertwined either directly or indirectly.
Along with the notion of survival faith came the belief that if the slaves were not to be free from oppression in this life, they would certainly be free from oppression in the next life. This religious rationale held a functional value and assisted the slaves in concentrating on the freedom in the next life, but with this belief the slaves were reneging any hope of equality in their lives on this earth.
This is the mentality behind the slave who compared the abolition of slavery to the coming of Jesus Christ. He created in his mind the idea that the only time he would see freedom was when the heavens opened and the .