The Black Church: Book summary and reviews of The Black Church by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The Black Church

This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The Black Church by Henry Louis Gates Jr. X
The Black Church by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
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Book Summary

From the New York Times-bestselling author of Stony the Road and one of our most important voices on the African-American experience, a powerful new history of the Black church in America as the Black community's abiding rock and its fortress.

The companion book to the upcoming PBS series.

For the young Henry Louis Gates, Jr., growing up in a small, segregated West Virginia town, the church was his family and his community's true center of gravity. Within those walls, voices were lifted up in song to call forth the best in each other, and to comfort each other when times were at their worst. In this book, his tender and magisterial reckoning with the meaning of the Black church in American history, Gates takes us from his own experience onto a journey across more than four hundred years and spanning the entire country. At road's end, we emerge with a new understanding of the centrality of the Black church to the American story--as a cultural and political force, as the center of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, as an unparalleled incubator of talent, and as a crucible for working through the community's most important issues, down to today.

In a country that has historically afforded its citizens from the African diaspora tragically few safe spaces, the Black church has always been more than a sanctuary; it's been a place to nourish the deepest human needs and dreams of the African-American community. This fact was never lost on white supremacists: from the earliest days of slavery, when enslaved people were allowed to worship at all, their meeting houses were subject to surveillance, and often destruction. So it continued, long after slavery's formal eradication; church burnings and church bombings by the Ku Klux Klan and others have always been a hallmark of the violent effort to suppress the struggle for equality for the African-American community. The past often isn't even past--Dylann Roof committed his slaughter in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church 193 years after the church was first burned down by whites following a thwarted slave rebellion.

But as Gates brilliantly shows, the Black church has never been only one thing. Its story lies at the vital center of the civil rights movement, and produced many of its leaders, from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on, but at the same time there have always been churches and sects that eschewed a more activist stance, even eschewed worldly political engagement altogether. That tension can be felt all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of today. Still and all, as a source of strength and a force for change, the Black church is at the center of the action at every stage of the American story, as this enthralling history makes vividly clear.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Refreshingly, the author's lens is not uncritical: He writes of a still-relevant church, as diverse as the Black experience itself, with struggles and failings...The book also includes generous photos, an engrossing epilogue revealing Gates' personal religious experiences alongside additional research...Powerful, poignant, and ultimately celebratory. Let the church say, "Amen!'" - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[B]risk and insightful...Punctuated by trenchant observations from Black historians and theologians, Gates's crisp account places religious life at the center of the African American experience." - Publishers Weekly

"Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has once again delved deep into the doings and sufferings of Black people in the USA! This time he gives us a rich story and riveting song of the profound forms of spirituality and musicality that sustained Black sanity and dignity. Although Gates rightly highlights the centrality of the ambiguous legacy of the Black Church, he also explores the crucial realities of Islam and other non-Christian religious practices. And the last powerful and playful chapter on his personal dance with an elusive Holy Ghost lays bare his own signifying genius grounded in a genuine love of Black people and culture!" - Cornel West

"Absolutely brilliant—a book that should spark a very rich conversation within the field and echo far beyond it. Its reckoning with the Holy Ghost in the context of Gates's own childhood is extraordinary. More than a wonderful synthesis of a deep literature about Black Christendom, it is a necessary reminder of where the Black community has found its strength to persevere, and to fight, and where it must find it still. Not least, Gates shows us that sacred music has never just been music; it is a taproot and a through-line across all of American history. A necessary and moving work." - Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., author of Begin Again

"A brilliant book: while I've spent some years studying this topic, I was enriched by how much new still is to be learned. Gates's insights into the role of the Holy Ghost in the Black Church are particularly revelatory. This is a rich and absorbing survey of the people, ideas, institutions, and expressions that have formed Black American history, and indelibly imprinted all of American history. You'll learn a lot about the past, and understand more about the present. Absolutely marvelous." - Paul Harvey, Professor of History, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, author of Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity

This information about The Black Church shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Henry Louis Gates Jr. Author Biography

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. An award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored or coauthored twenty-five books and created twenty-one documentary films, including Finding Your Roots. His PBS documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross earned an Emmy Award, a Peabody Award, and an NAACP Image Award. This series and his most recent PBS documentary series, Reconstruction: America after the Civil War, were both honored with the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.

Name Pronunciation
Henry Louis Gates Jr.: middle name is pronounced loo-is

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