Slaves and the Great Awakening (Late 1700’s – Early 1800’s)

In the context of black American history, The Great Awakening formed an important era that marked a considerable change to the slaves’ way of life. According to Hatt (28) this period was characterized by a Christian movement which started in North America, based on the preaching of Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian meetings. The movement emphasized the sinful nature of all people – black and white – and the chance of salvation from such sins that was achievable through Christianity. This new style of preaching had a soothing message for the slaves who envisioned a liberated future characterized by equality for all human kind and this led many to get converted into Christianity.  In the late 18th century and early 19th century, blacks had formed new churches that greatly influenced the dancing, singing and preaching in the churches of America. According to Stepto (12) missionaries encountered resistance at first since the masters believed that after the baptism, the slaves would be set free, and sharing the same church with the slaves would make them disobedient and uncontrollable.  On the other hand, the second Great Awakening significantly altered the lives of the colonists and the entire religious life of the Americans. As a reaction to the slackness in morals, the Great awakening led to theoretical conversions and commitment to church (Valkenburg 17).

The Great Awakening had different implications for different groups of people.

To some – the revivalists – Great Awakening was “an extraordinary and mighty work” of God’s special care. The substantial changes in the society and the substantial social and intellectual changes for theological purposes were, in this respect, attributed to the Great Awakening due to such special care from God. The blacks were evangelized and they embraced the religion with a belief that, it would bring them freedom. They associated the teachings of the Bible with what they were experiencing in their lives. They viewed religion being the requisite gateway to equality and the end of mistreatment from the whites. Even after the leaders allowed the blacks to church, and themselves believing in the Christianity teachings, ‘total freedom’ for the blacks was however not an immediate experience. The blacks were still discriminated against during worship.  In spite of the great efforts made by some white leaders to liberate the blacks, the Great Awakening sometimes caused trouble to the slaves.  The new preachers were viewed as pretenders and trouble makers by some whites. The great awakening however represented a period of great importance in the lives of the black Americans slaves, an era worth of note. This essay seeks to discuss the relevance of the Great Awakening to the history of black Americans specifically in relation to slaves in the late 1700s to the early 1800s. The paper discusses the slave’s reaction to the awakening, the events that characterized this era, the part the slaves played in the Awakening, and the implication of such events to the way of life of the slaves. Continue to part 2.

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