cover image The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

Henry Louis Gates Jr. Penguin Press, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-1-984880-33-8

In the companion volume to a forthcoming PBS documentary of the same name, Gates (Stony the Road) delivers a brisk and insightful look at how the Black church has succored generations of African Americans against white supremacy. Though whites believed that Christianity would keep enslaved Africans docile and compliant, Gates writes, religion actually enabled them to find the comforts of ritual and music in the only institution they could control. Gates details how the Black church carved out support networks and the political tools to fight for full citizenship for Black Americans, and forged pathways into American popular music. Civil rights titans Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X get their due in Gates’s survey, as do early rebel-preachers like Nat Turner and contemporary religious leaders including William J. Barber II of North Carolina and Raphael G. Warnock of Georgia. Gates also explores the roots of Methodism, Pentecostalism, the Nation of Islam, and other faith traditions; how gender and sexual identity issues have roiled Black churches; and contemporary debates over ministers preaching a “prosperity gospel” and the role of religious institutions in protests over police brutality. Punctuated by trenchant observations from Black historians and theologians, Gates’s crisp account places religious life at the center of the African American experience. (Feb.)