Discover how the Black church expanded its reach to address social inequality and minister to those in need, from the Jim Crow South to the heroic phase of the civil rights movement and the Black church’s role in the present.
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FRANKLIN: Gonna ask you to sing, like people used to sing.
With uplifted voices.
♪ I love the Lord he heard my cry ♪♪
TAYLOR: Did you know that the best minds of America
tried to preserve slavery.
Everything was against the idea of freedom.
MCKENZIE: Even in the face of absolute senseless violence,
we must find the courage to keep on living.
TAYLOR: It is a false notion that to serve God is
to serve some far-off deity.
God moves in human affairs.
CONGREGATION: Amen, amen.
TAYLOR: He fixes things for people who cannot
fix it for themselves.
♪ GROGAN-WALLACE: The power of God's movin' through the land ♪
♪ Whoa-oh, the power of God's movin' through the land ♪♪
PREACHER: In the name of Jesus today oh God we are rising
to seize the promises that you have prepared for
us from the beginning of time.
GATES: As the sun rose on the 20th century,
the church in black America, that nation within a nation,
extended its reach well
beyond the front steps of the sanctuary.
Full of the belief that the liberating god of their fathers
and mothers was on their side,
a rising generation would deploy the prophetic gospel
in a bold new battle for freedom and civil rights.
BARBER: The church has been a powerful force against sin,
the sin of racism, the sin of oppression,
particularly when the focus has been threefold;
prophetic social justice...
KING: I come over here tonight to tell you that you
are God's children.
PREACHER: We serve a Jesus who came and turned over the tables.
BARBER: And spiritual empowerment and worship.
♪ GROGAN-WALLACE: The judgement of God's movin' ♪
♪ through the land ♪
♪ yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah ♪♪
GATES: Thrust into a fast-changing world and
contending with internal conflicts,
as well as external oppression in the form of white supremacy,
The Black Church found itself forced to confront a burning
restlessness in its members, a restlessness rooted in this
world and not in the next,
one bent on freeing black people from the
strictures of segregation
and granting them full participation in the country
that their ancestors had sacrificed so much to build.
GATES: Stifled in the south that had violently rolled back
Reconstruction, black people began migrating north searching
for economic and political opportunities in what they
dreamed would be the land of Canaan.
Known as the Great Migration,
it would see astonishing waves of African Americans move
from rural areas to cities and from
the south to the industrial north and west,
from the early 1900's through the 1970's.
Pittsburgh and New York, Detroit and Chicago,
and even as far west as Los Angeles.
Wherever black families migrated they brought with them
their social customs,
their music, but, most of all, their faith.
DIOUF: We are talking about a period in the south that
was absolutely awful, you know of lynching's,
chain gangs, forced labor.
It was really a very, very violent period.
WEISENFELD: People are looking for other sorts of social
and economic opportunities,
and religion becomes part of that as well.
People begin to ask themselves,
what is God's plan for us as a people?
HARVEY: So, there's always this idea that there must be
a better life out there someplace.
What happens is World War I really provides the opportunity
because it cuts off the flow of European immigrant labor.
And you see northern factories explicitly recruiting
black laborers for that reason.
♪ GROUP: When the gates swing wide on the other side ♪
♪ Just beyond that sunset sea ♪♪
CHAN-MALIK: Being new migrants, many of them had to work in the
most menial of jobs.
They were working in factories.
They're working as domestics.
And in the south,
they had had rural sort of forms of support,
where, you know, your neighbor could make sure
your son or your daughter was okay.
Your family was supported.
Whereas in the north you were off at work,
and nobody was watching your children.
♪ MAN: Well I'm thinkin' of a friend whom I used to know ♪♪
WALTON: Migrants did not have access to minimal services,
whether it was health care, job employment, right.
They would find these things in the church.
SAVAGE: I think there is a way in which African American
churches have always assumed a greater responsibility for the
lives of their congregants;
something greater than simply
meeting spiritual needs on Sunday.
BEST: Some churches chose to respond, almost aggressively.
We're really going to make sure these migrants
come into our fold.
For instance, Olivet Baptist in Chicago started something
that they called the
Bethlehem Baptist Association,
specifically to address the material needs of
black southern migrants,
many of whom arrived with nothing.
GATES: Out of that commitment to help their own,
Black Churches built upon the framework broadly known as the
Social Gospel, Christianity's attempt to address social and
economic problems, drawing upon the tenets of The Bible
to scale these persistent, seemingly unmovable mountains.
BEST: This is having a profound impact on churches,
in terms of the numbers.
WALTON: And so that's really the beginnings of the
mega church movement.
We see multiple mega churches in Chicago, Mount Olivet,
Abyssinian in Harlem, with 5,000, 10,000 members.
BUTTS: In New York City, Abyssinian's role going into
the 20th Century, with a young gospel giant named
Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.,
was certainly responding to a social gospel.
He had classes: tailoring, learning how to read.
He was working then to cure the ills that
were hampering our people.
Because as much as people think of the north as the
Promised Land, it was hell up here too.
WEISENFELD: The reality was southern migrants saw
the same kinds of discrimination.
It was difficult to find a job.
Housing was crowded, conditions that made people
think that in some ways it was up south and not the
kind of transformative Promised Land
that they had imagined.
GATES: While southern migrants faced the harsh realities
of rebuilding their lives in the north, surprisingly,
they sometimes also faced disapproving attitudes from
the old, established black communities that greeted them.
♪ CONGREGATION: Wasn't that a mighty storm ♪
♪ oh, wasn't that a mighty storm... ♪♪
MURPHY: Now, there's always a difference between the rural
and the city, always.
The religious life of the south is much more informal,
Somebody could be praying and somebody could raise a
hymn while they're praying, the congregation will join in.
HADLEY: That was not welcomed in the mainline churches of the
Baptist and Methodist churches of the late 19th,
going into the 20th century.
And so, you start to see storefront
churches dotting the
cities of Chicago, Detroit,
Philadelphia and New York,
and those spaces become one in which African Americans,
particularly working class African Americans,
feel as though they can express themselves musically
and religiously, most freely.
♪ DRANES: Watch ye, therefore, you know not the day ♪
♪ When the Lord shall call your soul away ♪♪
MARTIN: Many of the urban churches across America
were trying to get away from that sort of worship experience
they wanted a worship experience that was more urbane.
They wanted it to be more sophisticated and more staid.
♪ DRANES: I shall wear a robe and crown ♪♪
CHAN-MALIK: Chicago in the 1920s is already a space where
there is already a thriving, black bourgeoisie.
And at the center of this black middle class
and upper-class life is the church.
And part of the church is this politics of respectability.
MARTIN: The politics of respectability puts forward that
public displays of African Americans piety or
lack thereof could either help to diminish racism in America
or it can help to allow racism in America to persist.
CHAN-MALIK: So, for these migrants this can be alienating.
If you can imagine coming to a very respectable Black Church
and feeling out of place.
Feeling like they're not good enough or their spiritual
practices are not up to snuff.
WALTON: So when you had migrants going into these congregations,
they weren't hearing a familiar sound.
And the record companies took advantage of that by packaging
and then selling this southern revivalistic
sensibility captured on wax.
MAN: I'm gonna sing a song tonight,
and the subject of this song is the train that carry
us to heaven...
WOMAN: Yes sir.
♪ MAN: If I have a ticket Lord ♪
♪ ALL: Can I ride? ♪
♪ If I have a ticket Lord can I ride? ♪
♪ If I have a ticket Lord can I ride? ♪
♪ Ride away to heaven on the morning train ♪♪
GATES: In the very early days of the phonograph,
jazz and blues recordings made by African American artists were
marketed as "Race Records,"
which black people lined up to purchase.
But no genre was more popular than religious race records,
black folk preaching on wax.
ROSS: It will be found on this Easter morning.
CONGREGATION: Oh yes.
ROSS: In the 16th chapter of Saint Mark.
ROSS: Part of the third verse.
MARTIN: In the 20's, race records channel the very thing
that a lot of African American,
urban migrants have been missing.
It includes the African American preacher taking
rhythmic breath and the chanted sermon.
It includes African Americans in the congregation saying
'amen, ' 'preach,' 'alright now,' 'c'mon preacher.'
PREACHER: Our subject is Jonah in the belly of the whale...
DARDEN: Now most sermons would be 20 minutes, 30 minutes,
an hour, two hours, three hours.
And the old 78s, two and a half, three minutes max.
♪ MAN: Throw me overboard ♪♪
WALTON: A preacher only had three minutes to sing your
introductory song, give the scripture, offer the sermon,
and then sing the closing song.
DARDEN: Most of the time they're not really
live sermons being recorded.
What they would do is they'll take a few congregants into a
recording studio, and they're almost like little stage plays.
JM: The fast driver of a car, he rides on in a hurry.
Preach it, preach it.
And it goes on a head on collision...
DARDEN: One of the fascinating things about these 78's,
black preachers will be talking about what's
going on in the world.
JM: I want to talk about manish women.
JM: Sometimes they try to walk and talk like a man.
SIMMONS: The culture was changing.
Amelia Earhart was flying planes.
Women were starting to wear pants...
JM: I'm told they stay out as late at night as any man.
CONGREGATION: C'mon now.
SIMMONS: And the moralistic side of the church said women
are getting out of their place, this is going to hurt homes.
So be this type of feminine woman
and you'll keep your husband,
you'll be thought well of, etcetera.
JM: Until they won't raise their children.
JM: The doctor and the nurse have to raise them.
MARTIN: It's a fascinating sermon,
both because it gives us some insight into the 1920s but
also provides for us a historical, uh,
line that we see,
that some of these battles are still going
on in our churches today.
We're still dealing with churches who don't recognize
women as preachers.
We're dealing with a church that's still wrestling with
whether or not they will recognize same-sex marriage.
So these issues about how one's sex, if you will,
should shape the role you're allowed to play
in society are still battles we're dealing with.
WALTON: But also, the church provides a space
where we're able to imagine something different.
It contributes to our moral imagination,
and all of a sudden, we are transformed in the process.
FRANKLIN: As an eagle stirreth up her nest,
flutter-ith over her young.
GATES: The influence of this early preaching on
wax would extend throughout the 20th century.
One of the most influential pastors to take advantage of
the medium was the Reverend Clarence Lavaughn Franklin,
Aretha Franklin's father,
"The man with the million dollar voice."
FRANKLIN: The Eagle is a personification of God.
GATES: Known by his initials, "C.L.,"
Franklin recorded his enormously popular sermon,
"The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest,"
in 1953 at New Bethel Baptist Church,
his pastoral home.
HARVEY: Franklin was really a southern minister in this
huge congregation in Detroit.
So, when people hear him on the radio, nationwide,
and when they buy his records, what they're hearing is
generations of black religious tradition that's reflected
in the southern style of sermonizing, sing-song style.
FRANKLIN: Just as the eagle stirs her nest,
flutter-ith over her young, and protect them,
Yahweh has done that in history for Israel.
WALTON: It begins like a locomotive getting started.
It's like a train.
And then it begins to build and pick up steam.
FRANKLIN: The question is, is God still stirring the nest?
WALTON: And by the conclusion,
he's literally singing his sermon.
FRANKLIN: And my great grandparents were slaves,
but oh look, where her great grandson, stands tonight,
oh lord, while God has been stirring the nest, oh lord.
HEILBUT: Most of the famous preachers, uh,
were very dramatic, and they specialized in,
in a kind of growl that was known as the Mississippi Whoop.
SIMMONS: Whooping is melody.
And it's cohesive pitches that you shorten.
So, you may hear something like...
♪ I come to the garden alone while the ♪
♪ dew is still on the roses ♪
♪ And the joy we share as we tarry there, ♪
♪ none other has ever known ♪
♪ None other has ever known ♪
♪ Do you know God? ♪
♪ Have you tarried? ♪
♪ Do you know him? ♪♪
GATES: What is the role of music in The Black Church?
CAESAR: If you take music out of the
church preachin' is gonna cease.
All of this other stuff is gonna cease.
It's something about those songs that brings joy.
It helps you to get over a lot of humps that you're going
through in your life, and it might be temporary,
but we thank God for that temporary blessing.
You're following what I'm saying?
GATES: Yes, ma'am.
CAESAR: You know, somebody in the choir might sing the old
hymn Amazing Grace or whatever, but once they sing it and
it brings joy in your life you might get up and
go back home and uh, the burden is much lighter.
GATES: Absolutely. CAESAR: Amen, amen, amen.
What is the relationship between singing and preaching?
CAESAR: Um, singing the gospel has, you know.
We, we put a melody to it.
Um but the word is the word, no matter what.
♪ Oh yea. ♪
♪ I, I, I once, I once was lost ♪
♪ but now... ♪♪
CAESAR: I'm getting happy.
♪ CAESAR: Right now I'm found ♪
♪ I was blind ♪
♪ but now I, ♪
♪ see ♪♪
HADLEY: When you think about the difference between hymns and
gospel and spirituals, a lot of that has to do with chronology,
when things emerge and also structure.
♪ MAN: Just give me that old time religion ♪♪
HADLEY: The folk spirituals emerge
during the period of enslavement.
There's an identifiable structure there,
but the words are interchangeable.
Then we get into hymns.
♪ CHOIR: It's in my soul ♪♪
HADLEY: Hymns have this standard verse-chorus structure,
and that comes out of European hymnody.
♪ WOMAN: Oh when the saints ♪♪
HADLEY: As we get into the blues era,
we're taking this idea the blues form in its
lyrical structure and in its melodic structure
and marrying that.
So, when you get to gospel hymns and gospel you
have the merger of all of those things.
♪ WOMAN: Oh when the saints, go marchin' in ♪
♪ When the saints go marchin' in ♪
♪ Lord wanna be, wanna be, wanna be, wanna be, ♪
♪ wanna be in that number ♪
♪ When the saints go marchin' in ♪
♪ Go marchin' in ♪♪
GATES: As the recording industry blossomed,
blues and jazz artists, who had been raised in the church,
inevitably borrowed from black, religious music,
cross-pollinating genres to create a brand new,
But at the same time, Black Churches were doing
the same thing in reverse,
creating a style of their own with gospel
innovators infusing the sacred with popular, secular music.
This tug of war between the sacred and the secular would
drive the evolution of black music to this day.
Within The Black Church the battleground was especially
fierce with many staunchly believing that singing about
God's word, using chords from blues and jazz,
had absolutely no place in God's house.
BEST: Rosetta Tharpe, um, have you ever heard
her play guitar?
Oh, man. Cue the music, right?
♪ THARPE: Gonna lay down my heavy load. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Down by the river side. ♪
♪ THARPE: Oh, yes. ♪ ♪
HARVEY: Rosetta Tharpe grew up in the
Church of God in Christ Family.
And in the 1930s realizes that she can convey these
kinds of messages in nightclubs just as much
as she can in church services.
And so, she begins a professional musical career,
appearing in secular venues, still doing religious music,
but also playing what we would think of as
rock and roll guitar.
♪ THARPE: Didn't it rain, children? ♪♪
HARVEY: Rosetta Tharpe's church responds to
her by condemning her.
Because if you're a member of the Church of God in Christ
you're not supposed to be at a nightclub, simple as that.
WINANS: A lot of people felt as if the music was being played
outside of the four walls of the church that
it could not be Gospel.
Where the contemporary listeners felt as if we're
obeying what God said because he said,
"take my word to the highways and to the hedges."
That means take the music everywhere.
♪ THARPE: Oh, my Lord. How it rained ♪♪
(cheering and applause)
GATES: Unlike Rosetta Tharpe, former blues man, Thomas Dorsey,
otherwise known as "Georgia Tom", would become
one of the most famous songwriters in the history
of Gospel Music.
The secret of Dorsey's success?
The heavenly vocals of a young Mahalia Jackson,
who gave spiritual life to Dorsey's compositions.
♪ JACKSON: There is a highway to Heaven ♪♪
HADLEY: Thomas Dorsey works with singers,
like Mahalia Jackson,
to get churches interested in the music that he's creating.
It is both a spiritual imperative for him as well
as a commercial one, how you sell music.
DARDEN: Gospel music has survived, in part,
because there's always been this tension.
That love of improvisation,
the beat, those African survivals,
and that fact that in its heart if it's gospel music
GATES: This tension between Saturday night and
Sunday morning reached far beyond the choir lofts.
The 20th century would see a profound expansion
in worship practices,
both within and outside of the confines
of Christian churches.
Even as the numbers of congregants in black churches
across the country grew,
many looked for new ways to find God,
especially in the urban north.
WEISENFELD: You know, on the one hand there are lots of
people who joined churches that are like
the ones they came from, to help stabilize them and
continue on their religious paths.
But there are lots of people who seek new things.
And we see the rise of new cultural and political positions
and religious formations.
CHAN-MALIK: And it is in this moment where you see the rising
consciousness around pan-Africanism through the
figure of Marcus Garvey.
Garvey actually tells his followers that it might be time
to find a religion that critiques some of the
white supremacist leanings of the Christian Church.
GARVEY: Because if Negroes are created in God's image,
and Negroes are black then God must in some sense be black.
WEISENFELD: We get the emergence of dramatically new kinds of
religious claims that reject Black Church theologies and
traditions as false, as always having been false.
AUSTON: The Nation of Islam explicitly critiques white
supremacy through its theology and practice.
And this is everything from what the divine looks like
to what the divine wants you to look like.
In other words, as a black person the way
God made you is beautiful.
Don't perm your hair.
Don't emulate a standard of beauty
that's outside of blackness.
PINN: This is still a period in which white supremacy is
the dominant orientation, and African Americans both privately
and publicly are being taught that they are inferior.
The Nation of Islam turns the tables.
White people are the problem.
They are inferior.
MALCOLM X: I would like to present to you
the most honorable Elijah Muhammad.
CHAN-MALIK: So much of it had to do with the conscious
modes of presentation that Elijah Muhammad
and later Malcolm X,
you know, presented of the Nation.
Black men in suits.
These were proud, black men, clean-shaven, standing tall.
And this created an impression that any person
on the street could come and join this
organization and emerge strong,
AUSTON: They're very active in sort of what in
nation parlance is called fishing.
The Nation of Islam wanted to go after the man in the mud, right?
The person who is really at the lowest point.
And those people in most need of this teaching that
they understand to be life giving.
DYSON: So, if you were in Harlem, which is important,
revving up the psychology of black people,
Elijah Mohammad was incredibly important to
the psychological infrastructure of black people.
But the fight was in Birmingham with the bicuspids
and incisors of police dogs ripping at the flesh of
black men and women and children.
The fight was against Bull Connor not in Harlem
but in Bombingham.
GATES: Political and social progress,
seen in the black urban enclaves of the north,
wouldn't of course reach black people in the deep south,
trapped in a racist past,
until the modern civil rights movement.
One of the greatest struggles of African Americans in the
South would be the pursuit of the right to vote,
which would reach its apex in the 1950s and the 1960s,
and black churches would be at the forefront of the battle.
♪ MAN: I'm, I'm a soldier. ♪
♪ GROUP: In the army of the Lord. ♪ ♪
ANDERSON: We will keep praying.
We will keep meeting.
We will even march if necessary to see to it that
our rights come where?
ANDERSON: And when?
HARVEY: The 1950s and '60s and the civil rights revolution
and the attention that's paid to it, there's a number
of external factors that explain some of that,
the Cold War, the advent of television.
But at its core is a freedom that had never been
fully realized in American history,
and that idea of freedom is fundamentally
expressed in the African American religious tradition.
MAN: Oh God we know that the same God,
took your Moses when he went down to Egypt.
HUNTER-GAULT: In order to survive,
we had to put on a suit of armor to withstand all
the slings and arrows of segregation
and the segregationists.
ANDERSON: Let the Klansmen come, let the state troopers comes,
let the Militia come, let the National Guardsmen come.
We are marching for Freedom and God is on our side.
KING: And if necessary, mean we must be willing to
fill up the jails all over the state of Georgia.
SAVAGE: Many critics from the early 20th century had been
calling for an educated clergy,
one who brings the power of intellect,
of having studied and learned and critiqued the scriptures.
Someone who is humble and politically committed to the
community rather than towards them-self.
King is exactly the embodiment of that.
GATES: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
came from a family of preachers,
including his father and his grandfather.
Martin Luther King, Sr. would remain a profoundly
beloved influence on his son,
directing Martin Jr. to attend seminary and
then earn a PHD from Boston University before
inviting him to co-pastor
Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
It would be at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
in Montgomery, Alabama, however, where, in the mid-1950s,
a bus boycott would catapult the young
King to the center stage of the civil rights movement.
REPORTER: A Negro fight against segregation is led by the
Reverend Martin Luther King.
The end of segregation on the buses became the goal
of King and his followers.
While Daddy King guided him into the ministry,
his most important theological influence, without a doubt,
was a man named Howard Thurman.
THURMAN: Religious experience is dynamic.
It's fluid. It's, it's effervescent.
It's yeasty, all these words.
GATES: Howard Thurman devoted his ministry to writing,
teaching, and preaching, not only in this country,
His teachings would profoundly shape Dr. King's
prophetic ministry and
his nonviolent approach to protest.
PIERCE: For the African-American church,
Howard Thurman looms large.
Years before the civil rights movement
formally began, he had an understanding that an
interracial cooperation around religious and theological
concerns was going to be the key to political and
social and civil movements.
HILDEBRAND: There are a number of black ministers who
made almost pilgrimages to Gandhi.
Thurman was enormously impressed by the combination
of a spiritual and political movement committed to the
discipline of nonviolence that was effective in removing
the British colonial power and freeing the people of India.
FLUKER: In 1949, Thurman publishes this little book
entitled, "Jesus and the Disinherited."
BROWN: Howard Thurman urges people to master the force,
the power of love so that you can love another person
who may be hateful into knowing that they are also
a holy child of God.
FLUKER: These are major themes
that are not lost on people
like Martin Luther King Jr.,
who reads the book, we know, shortly after it was published.
YOUNG: Martin Luther King Jr. always traveled with Jesus
and the Disinherited.
I mean clean underwear, shirt,
and he'd have Howard Thurman in his briefcase.
And he read Howard Thurman for inspiration.
KING: I am convinced that nonviolent resistance is the
most potent weapon available to oppressed people
in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.
RANSBY: Movement histories are often talked about in terms of
heroes come in to save the day.
You know, grand larger than life figures lead people to,
to victory or to liberation.
And that's certainly not the way social movements unfold.
♪ GROUP: We shall overcome. ♪♪
SIMMONS: At the end of the day,
the Freedom Riders those who worked for SNCC,
Dr. King could not have done what they did and
had the impact had it not been for those lay people
who were brave enough to say, "I'll march with you."
♪ HARRIS: This little light of mine. ♪
♪ I'm gonna let it shine. ♪
♪ Oh, this little light of mine. ♪
♪ I'm gonna... ♪
♪ Oh, this little light ♪ ♪
GATES: When it came to fundraising for the movement,
one group in particular would help lead the way.
♪ HARRIS: Everywhere I go, Lord. ♪
♪ GROUP: I'm gonna let it shine. ♪ ♪
GATES: Founded in 1962 by four organizers from the
Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC,
"The Freedom Singers" would travel across the country
performing what became the soundtrack of civil rights
marches and rallies,
raising desperately needed funds to support SNCC's
operations and civil rights work.
One of those singers was 21-year old Rutha Mae Harris.
GATES: What was the relationship between the Freedom Songs
you were singing and the songs from the church?
HARRIS: Well, the Freedom Songs were taken from gospel...
GATES: Mmm-hmm. HARRIS: Congregational hymns.
The only thing we had to do was change the lyrics
to fit the occasion, whatever it was.
Like, I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus.
The only thing we had to change was,
I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.
GATES: How important do you think your music was
to the success of the civil rights movement?
HARRIS: Personally, I feel that without the songs of
the Civil Rights movement,
there wouldn't have been a movement.
Because a song kept us from being afraid.
Say you're walking down the street doing a march and
this policeman tell you, you're gonna be hit or whatever.
You start singing,
Ain't gonna let nobody turn me 'round.
HARRIS: Not even the chief of police.
GATES: Not even a Billy club. HARRIS: Not even a Billy club.
♪ GROUP: Ain't gonna let these pickets ♪
♪ Turn me 'round ♪
♪ I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', ♪
♪ Keep on a-talkin', ♪
♪ Marchin' up to freedom land ♪ ♪
PIERCE: The sound of the civil rights movement is not
just a backdrop in terms of its religious substance.
It is literally what gave the Civil Rights movement the
financial means in order to continue.
♪ JACKSON: Oh, Georgia give me a little of that Jericho ♪
♪ CROWD: Jericho, Jericho. ♪ ♪
PIERCE: It was gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson,
who would give a concert and raise thousands of dollars.
She helped to fund the Freedom Rides,
helped to fund King as he traveled.
DARDEN: There were so few African Americans who were
financially able to support the movement,
but Mahalia did it on multiple levels.
He could call Mahalia and they could talk through
the dark times, and when things were really bad
we know that she sang to him.
GATES: Black women, ranging from masterful singers,
like Mahalia Jackson, and echoing through the ranks
of every aspect of church life,
were the lifeblood of most church congregations.
They remain the indispensable and all too often overlooked
leaders in the fight, not only for salvation
but for liberation.
TURMAN: When we think of these women and their social activism,
we must recognize the ways in which it emerges
from their faith.
BUTLER: Women have a very important place in the
civil rights movement.
Of course we can think about Fannie Lou Hamer.
HAMER: We want people all over America to know that
we are fighting on a principle.
And we are going to say now, go and tell it on the mountain.
RANSBY: Ella Baker is one of those unsung heroines of
the civil rights movement.
BUTLER: Diane Nash, as a college student,
becomes a very integral part of the movement.
Dorothy Height plays a crucial role in organizing
the March on Washington.
We tend to think about this as being male leadership,
and we can't do that anymore.
HALL: There were convinced that God was right now,
standing with them.
That was the faith, which burned deeply in
the souls of our African American ancestors.
WARNOCK: Prathia Hall was one of many women who has
not gotten her just due.
In fact, Martin Luther King, Jr.
was a part of a mass meeting,
here in rural Georgia.
And while he was in that mass meeting,
she began to talk to God aloud about what she desired
for the world.
And over and over again, she kept saying to God,
I have a dream.
WARNOCK: This was in Terrell County, Georgia,
uh, I believe in 1962.
And so, people need to know that before it
was Martin's dream, it was Prathia's prayer.
HIGGINBOTHAM: I knew Prathia, I did ask her.
GATES: You did?
HIGGINBOTHAM: I did ask her, and she said, yes, it was true.
He came to one of their rallies, and she led the prayer service.
And she said when she was driving him to the airport,
he said, "I love the way you did that.
I'm, I'm gonna use that."
Now, she did not put all that content between
I have a dream and what he's saying,
but just the motif, "I have a dream,
I have a dream today."
That was Prathia Hall.
KING: I have a dream, that one day this nation will rise up,
live out the true meaning of its creed.
GATES: Prathia's Prayer and Dr. King's Dream weren't
merely sublimely rendered spiritual texts.
They came to life because they were resonating expressions
of the oppressive suffering that African Americans
experienced every day of their lives.
Moving into the 1960s, some black religious leaders
would take up the prophetic mantle of the church,
to stand in the face of that suffering,
whether through direct political action in the streets,
or in the halls of congress.
REPORTER: Congressman Adam Clayton Powell is one
of the nation's most sought after speakers.
Behind the dramatic rhetoric is a 35-year performance
as a civil rights activist.
POWELL: I belong to a group of people that God, omniscient,
omnipresent God, God of all power said you are my children!
And you're the same as anyone else!
And with that kind of faith in me and courage in me,
I know I'm as good, if not better,
than anybody that walks the halls of Congress.
GATES: Powell, the son of the Reverend
Adam Clayton Powell Sr.,
would follow in his father's footsteps,
but with his own signature swing.
The younger preacher wouldn't be fulfilled by a ministry that
confined him to the walls of the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Young Adam saw the nation as his pulpit and social change
as his calling and decided that his prophetic ministry
could best be fulfilled within the larger political system.
PINN: Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
is not interested in any clear distinction
between spiritual and secular.
BUTTS: He didn't believe in protest because he thought that
protest would impede his ability to push through legislation.
So, he said, you know,
"Keep 'em out of the street," you know, "And let me operate
from the suites."
He knew his political strength.
He used it in the New York City Council.
He used it when he got to Congress,
and he chased the segregationists around.
That's the church.
MALCOLM X: When you have a philosophy or a gospel,
I don't care whether it's the religious gospel,
or political gospel,
an economic gospel, or a social gospel.
If it's not going to do something for you and
me right here right now to hell with that gospel.
BUTTS: Malcolm is as much a part of the black religious
experience as anybody else.
He was a Muslim, but so what?
He was a man empowered by God.
CHAN-MALIK: We see Malcolm X and Martin Luther King being
portrayed as these two polar opposites in the press.
And that's an impression that lives on to this day,
that Malcolm and Martin were opposites.
One was for integration, and peace and love,
and the other one was black liberation by all means
necessary, even if it means taking up arms.
They want to portray Malcolm X.
as this firebrand, this insurgent that must be excised
from the more liberal discourse of civil rights.
CHAN-MALIK: While Malcolm and Martin started off in very
different places, by the end of their lives, you know,
by around 1963, 1964, their thinking and their ways of
engaging the issues of their time were really converging.
MALCOLM X: We want to make them pass the strongest
civil rights bill they've ever passed.
In order to do this, there won't be a door in Harlem
that will not have been knocked on,
to see that whatever black face lives behind
that door is registered, to vote.
ORTIZ: Between 1920 and 1960, African Americans have built
real bastions of political power in the urban north so
that they can actually demand a much higher level
of accountability from the federal government.
So much so that black voting strength begins to determine
US presidential elections.
And so, if you're a person like John F Kennedy or
Lyndon B. Johnson and you want to
be elected president,
suddenly the African American vote is a swing vote.
GATES: The right to vote was still a far-off dream
for many African Americans in post-war America,
especially in the former confederate states
of the deep south.
Jim Crow Laws, poll taxes, literacy tests,
and violent terror tactics blocked African Americans'
access to full citizenship, despite the guarantees of the
15th and 19th amendments,
which barred discrimination by race or
sex in the right to vote.
MAN: We're willing to be beaten for democracy.
You beat people bloody in order that they will not
have the privilege to vote.
ORTIZ: African Americans believed that they had the
opportunity to smash white supremacy.
It's one of the most dramatic social movements
in American history.
And it's fueled at the base by black churches,
black fraternal organizations and black labor unions.
GATES: Black Church Leaders, as well as the members of their
congregations who joined the struggle for civil rights,
often suffered a violent and unrepentant backlash.
MAN: Somebody planted 12 sticks of dynamite between
the church and the house, yet I didn't get a scratch.
So, I say that I was saved to lead the fight.
PIERCE: There were plenty of black churches that did
not participate in the civil rights movement.
They were afraid to be a part of it.
They worried that their churches would be the next to be bombed.
And so, they refused to allow the leaders of the
civil rights movement to even have services there.
BARBER: I don't do a lot of judging of that,
because you would get your church blown up.
You would get your head shot off.
But I often wonder what could have been if there
was full unity.
If there was a complete engagement,
a total commitment of every black denomination?
Could we have gone much further?
WEST: Again, it was about terrorism coming at
black people as a whole.
And when The Black Church,
at its best, is the public face of
the witness of love and justice,
it will be targeted.
REPORTER: At least 30 black churches throughout
the south have been destroyed.
Churchgoers are still in shock that anyone could be so bold.
PINN: Church burnings in the, 20th and 21st centuries provide
the same message that church burnings in the 1800s provided.
These church burnings are a way to reinforce white supremacy.
If you are black, there is no safe space.
REPORTER: The bombing of this Birmingham, Alabama
church claimed the lives of four little girls
attending Sunday school.
JENNINGS: In a Baptist Church in Birmingham,
Alabama the Sunday school lesson is from Matthew:
"I say unto you love your enemies.
Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you."
Then a bomb blows up under the church steps.
GATES: The tragic bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church
in 1963 was emblematic of the savage violence that
targeted Black Churches long before the Civil War.
Yet, meeting that terror with faith, organization,
and determination, African Americans proved
that they would prevail.
In 1965, President Lyndon Banes Johnson signed
the Voting Rights Act, committed to safeguarding the
sanctity of the vote for all Americans.
African Americans felt as if the promised land was within reach,
and that the god of the oppressed had finally answered
the prayers of generations.
Would there have been a civil rights movement
had there not been a Martin Luther King?
MOSS: Perhaps, yes, but it would have been different.
MOSS: He brought into the movement a redemptive paradigm
in harmony with the teachings of Jesus the Christ as a
moral foundation and remained true to that principle.
DYSON: This is a man who used the genius of the gospel,
not to make this a Christian nation,
but to use his Christianity to make this a just nation.
KING: 1,300 sanitation workers are on strike,
and Memphis is not being fair to them.
GATES: In the late 1960s, Dr. King radically expanded
his civil rights activism, traveling constantly to spread
He argued that true power would come from strong
coalitions of the most disenfranchised,
no matter their color,
their gender or their denomination.
BUTLER: People forget that during this part of King's life,
right before his assassination,
he was doing the "Poor People's Campaign"
and that he received a lot of flak during this time period.
KING: We are dealing with hard economic and social issues,
and it means that the job is much more difficult.
It's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than
it is to guarantee an annual income.
It's much easier...
GATES: In the spring of 1968, Dr. King lent his support to
sanitation workers striking in Memphis,
who were demanding the city recognize their union,
pay them a living wage, and guarantee the safety
of their fellow employees.
BARBER: Dr. King, the last night he was alive,
when he preached, people call it,
"I've Been to the Mountaintop."
But again, that was the closing.
Inside of that, he talked about,
there are a lot of people that want,
honey and milk over yonder.
But people need some bread down here.
And he was very clear.
That night, he was challenging the church.
KING: It's alright to talk about streets flowing
with milk and honey.
But God has commanded us to be concerned about the
slums down here,
and his children who can't eat three square meals a day.
We are saying that we are determined to be men.
We are determined to be people.
We are saying,
we are saying that we are God's children.
SIMMONS: We have these mountain-top moments.
And then we have these moments when they'll get
rid of us if they can.
(echoed clock ticking)
SIMMONS: So we have to keep saying here's why the
word of God is important,
here's why black lives matter to God and to us.
MAN: We are very upset today, many people are out here on
the street wondering, which way they're gonna turn because
we don't know where we're gonna go.
MAN: Ashes to ashes...
The civil rights movement of the 60s came to a violent end,
marked by the tragic assassination
of Dr. King in Memphis.
For The Black Church, his death brought the community,
both to a spiritual and a political crossroads.
Could Black Churches continue to lead the fight
for liberation onto new and changing battlefields?
The forces of progressive change,
both within the church and outside of it,
would soon become almost irreparably fractured.
The next four decades would witness a battle for the very
soul of The Black Church, a fight not only over political
tactics or God's true message,
but a fight for its very future.
♪ FLACK: I told Jesus ♪
♪ be alright ♪
♪ if you change my name. ♪
♪ I told Jesus be alright ♪ ♪
JACKSON: The black people's leader, our Moses,
the once in a 400, 500 year leader has been taken from us
by hatred and bitterness.
GATES: Dr. King's life had been violently cut short
by an assassin's bullet.
As cities across the country burned,
the title of his last book resonated,
"Where Do We Go From Here?"
And as the community faced its greatest crisis since the
collapse of reconstruction,
the traditional approaches to race,
religion and politics were under fire.
PINN: With the killing of Martin Luther King Jr.,
the ability of folks to see the Black Church as a
strong force for transformation is
brought into question.
GATES: As early as 1966,
young people had begun to split off from
church-led activism for organizations inspired by
secular calls for Black Power, among them The Black Panthers.
The Panthers critiqued racial and economic injustice and
embraced a more aggressive form of self-defense.
BROWN: Violence is a part of America's culture.
It is as American as cherry pie.
We will use that violence to rid ourselves of
oppression if necessary.
SAVAGE: They bring a different kind of political assessment
to the Christianity and the passivity that they associate
with civil disobedience.
They're looking for a much more nationalist approach to
black politics, and they're also looking to step away from
the restrictions of church leadership.
CLEAVER: Power to the people is becoming a reality.
GATES: What effect did Black Power have on the
development of the Black Church?
WEST: The Black Power movement was saying what?
Black self-respect, black self-determination,
That had to be integral to what it is to be a
black human being.
GATES: Do you think that was a good thing for the church?
WEST: Well, the church needs to be challenged.
If we're conformist, complacent and cowardly,
the best of the church will be lost.
If black Christians are courageous, compassionate,
true to the best of what the gospel is all about then
the spiritual awakening can be waiting for us.
(theme music plays)
♪ MAN: I was lost in sin and sorrow. ♪
♪ On an island ♪
♪ in life's dark sea. ♪
♪ When I saw ♪ ♪
GATES: After the stunning legislative victories of the
civil rights movement, Black Churches found themselves
at a crossroad.
They could retreat from the front lines or they could try
to remain relevant by incorporating this flood of
black nationalist thinking into their theology.
Would churches remain the center of inspiration and
uplift in an increasingly volatile world?
Soon, a voice from the academy would create a new theology
that fused the cultural,
the political and the spiritual,
radically redefining the role of black Christianity
in a revolutionary new era.
CONE: White theology basically is a theology which has
defined the Christian faith in such a way that it has no
relationship to black people.
GATES: In 1969, James Cone, a professor at
Union Theological Seminary, published
"Black Theology and Black Power".
GLAUDE: King's witness is making its way into seminaries
with James Cone, who's trying to figure out how to translate
King's moral call to the nation and express it in
a way that will speak to the rage of the moment?
SAVAGE: Black theology is basically a new way of looking
at the relationship between black religion and black
political struggle and an embrace of the tenants of
Black is Beautiful and a comfort with
CONE: God is on the side of the oppressed and since the
oppressed are the ones who need be liberated,
he must be identified with their condition.
GATES: Cone argued that god was so intimately connected
with struggle and against oppression that god,
in effect, had been black all along.
DOUGLAS: He said that God's story is the black story.
And the black story is God's story.
And that, he said, is the Christian story.
I said, Lord, Jesus.
I was ready to leave Christianity.
'Cause if I couldn't be black and Christian,
then I wasn't gonna give up being black.
What I discovered when I discovered Dr. Cone's work was
my own black faith.
GATES: Cone's theology would soon move from the confines of
the seminary into popular culture.
MICHAEL: What is it?
JJ: I call it "Black Jesus".
MICHAEL: Black Jesus.
Now this is what the brothers need.
GATES: And would inspire a new generation both of
black clergy and feminist scholars to bring
black liberation theology to the people.
WRIGHT: The culture says you the wrong race.
The Christ says I made your race and I ain't
made no mistakes.
The culture says your skin is black.
The Christ said and so was mine.
GATES: In 1972,
fresh from divinity school and full of ideas,
Jeremiah Wright arrived at Trinity United Church of Christ,
on the impoverished south side of Chicago.
The congregation had dwindled down to 87 members
and the local community felt that the church wasn't
addressing its cultural needs.
WRIGHT: Well, the core group said,
all we need to do is find a young fool to conduct the
funeral for a dying congregation.
They found the fool.
And here I am.
GATES: And you had the funeral?
WRIGHT: No, I told them, Jesus never conducted any funerals.
GATES: That's true.
WRIGHT: He conducted resurrections.
GATES: That's true, oh, that's beautiful.
GATES: The congregation soared to 8,000 members,
open to all in the heart of the city.
WRIGHT: We used to call ourselves in the '70s,
the Alphabet Soup Church.
We had all the alphabets.
AB, BS, MD, PhD, and ADC.
GATES: And ADC.
WRIGHT: That's welfare.
WRIGHT: Because the letters behind your name are
how you make a living.
The Church is about how you make a life.
GATES: The son of a preacher and a veteran of the Marines,
Reverend Wright put James Cone's black theology into practice
both culturally and politically.
The church's members declared themselves unashamedly
black and unapologetically Christian.
WRIGHT: Black family don't stop praying, its nation time.
SAVAGE: Jeremiah Wright is a combination of historical
currents in one figure.
This is a highly trained, prophetic, charismatic
religious figure and someone who also has
political commitment as politically radical
as King was in his day.
GATES: In what ways did this church embrace black
liberation theology and put it into practice?
WRIGHT: First, in worship.
Secondly, those kinds of ministry programs that took
the principles of black theology and made it black
Black theology talks about all of us being the same,
equal footing at the foot of the cross.
TURMAN: The Black Church has been the place where so many
of us have come to know a God of justice and a God of love.
But it has simultaneously been a place that has
wounded so many of us.
GATES: Amid the struggle over Black Power and
Black Theology, other internal frustrations burst
to the surface in the early '70s, particularly
on the west coast,
where those who felt marginalized within their own
churches boldly broke with tradition and developed
righteous new ways to express their beliefs.
♪ CHOIR: Oh, happy day. ♪
♪ SHIRLEY: Oh, happy day. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Oh, happy day. ♪ ♪
GATES: In 1968, the Edwin Hawkins Singers
from Oakland, California, debuted their gospel song,
"Oh Happy Day."
♪ SHIRLEY: When Jesus washed. ♪
♪ CHOIR: When Jesus washed. ♪
♪ SHIRLEY: He washed my sins away. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Oh happy day. ♪ ♪
GATES: The group was one of several Pentecostal choirs
emerging in the late 60s to bring a youthful energy
back to the church.
But this song was a dramatic break from the past.
♪ SHIRLEY: Oh, yeah. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Fight and pray ♪
♪ SHIRLEY: Good God. Alright. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Everyday! ♪
♪ And he'll rejoice ♪
♪ SHIRLEY: And we rejoice ♪
♪ CHOIR: When Jesus washed. ♪
♪ SHIRLEY: Every, oh ♪ ♪
ADAMS: I was so enthralled in the way that
they presented the gospel.
Shirley with her, you know, beautiful, regal looking self.
And I'm like, oh my gosh, this is,
this is what I can aspire to?
And then to also look cool doing it.
GATES: The song not only became an international hit,
it also won a Grammy, and the choir was treated
like rock stars.
But the singers were criticized by Pentecostal
church leaders who felt that the song's crossover success
was too worldly to be properly religious.
GATES: Talk about the tensions between Saturday night
and Sunday morning?
ADAMS: You know, oh entertainment shouldn't be
in the church.
What do you think the preacher does?
GATES: Yeah, you ain't kidding. ADAMS: The preacher...
(mimicking pulpit style)
But when the church makes the indictment that you don't
serve God anymore, it hurts.
♪ SHIRLEY: Mmm-hmm. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Oh, happy day. ♪ ♪
GATES: And sometimes, it can drive people away
from the church.
In 1972, building on the success of "Oh Happy Day",
the Hawkins family opened a storefront church in Oakland.
They called it, the "Love Center".
And, unlike mainstream Pentecostal churches,
the Love Center adopted the bay area's counter-cultural
approach to sexuality.
SORETT: This is where the Hawkins family and the sort of
black Pentecostal community in the Bay Area is so
important for thinking about a new era in Christianity.
WALTON: In practice, same-gender-loving brothers
and sisters have been included at every juncture and
in every phase of the life of our Black Churches.
It's just kind of a don't ask, don't tell policy.
GATES: The Love Center's choir and pews became a haven
for gay and lesbian singers, like gospel musician,
Yvette Flunder, the daughter and granddaughter of pastors.
Flunder felt deeply alienated from the Pentecostal church in
which she'd been raised.
♪ FLUNDER: And I'm very special. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Very special. ♪
♪ FLUNDER: And a beautiful gift. ♪ ♪
FLUNDER: I came from the church that was just, don't.
You just don't.
GATES: But you left the church for a time.
Would you mind telling me about that?
FLUNDER: I never had to leave church to be a
What made me an exile was because I decided
to tell the truth.
There's an awful price to pay.
♪ WOMAN: Oh, yeah ♪
♪ And I love to call his name. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Jesus. ♪ ♪
There are people who are very afraid.
They're afraid to lose their churches.
They're afraid to lose their positions.
And so they remain, deeply closeted.
♪ WOMAN: And your chains follow. ♪
♪ CHOIR: Jesus. ♪
♪ WOMAN: Call him, Jesus. CHOIR: Jesus. ♪
♪ WOMAN: I'm so in love with him! ♪
♪ CHOIR: Jesus. ♪ ♪
GATES: But what had been repressed would find a novel
way to be expressed, when sacred churchy vocals fused
with secular club rhythms to form disco's gay anthems.
The genre's divas, like
"Sylvester, The Queen of Disco,"
had all been raised in the church.
♪ SYLVESTER: You make me feel ♪
♪ mighty real. ♪
♪ You make me feel ♪ ♪
FLUNDER: Sylvester, who was raised in the
Church of God in Christ,
just like me had that tune, had those licks,
had that sound, had that vibe, you know.
♪ SYLVESTER: Nice and dark and the music's in me. ♪♪
FLUNDER: He said to me one day, he said,
"It's amazing, Yvette."
He said that the same people that turned me out
turned me out.
I'll never forget it.
GATES: Peter Gomes, a dear friend of mine,
once remarked that the whole foundation of the
Black Church was propped up by women and gay men.
DOUGLAS: How is it that, uh, a church that emerged out of a
struggle for freedom would then indeed oppress
its own members?
If the Black Church is going to survive it is going to have
to be welcoming to the whole entire black community.
Because otherwise, there's not gonna be a church.
GATES: But these issues would continue to stoke debate
within Black Churches throughout the 70s.
And soon, Black Churches would need to respond to another
social shift, an emerging black middle class rising in
part out of gains from affirmative action.
PINN: And so, churches have to ask themselves,
what do you do with this new capacity for
What do you do with black folks who now
have economic means?
On some level, a way to do that is what we've come to
call the prosperity gospel.
IKE: In the American economy,
the only color of power is green.
That's why I have never represented Black Power,
only green power.
And if everybody can get some more green power,
then there will be peace and love between the races.
GATES: The Reverend Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II,
popularly known as Reverend Ike,
a southern Black Preacher and evangelist,
believed that the root of all evil could be traced
to one source, the lack of money.
WALTON: Reverend Ike was a larger than life personality
that pulled people into his world of excess and riches.
IKE: Money loves me!
CONGREGATION: Money loves me!
IKE: Money loves to fill my hands.
CONGREGATION: Money loves to fill my hands.
GATES: Reverend Ike, promoting his mind science philosophy,
became the voice of the prosperity gospel.
His weekly radio program drew millions of listeners,
both white people and black people.
WALTON: For Reverend Ike, there was too much emphasis in
the Black Church about poverty, about suffering.
IKE: I say there is no virtue in poverty.
There is no style in poverty.
Poverty doesn't have any class.
SHARPTON: There was always a strand in the black
religious world of those that would teach
blessings and prosperity.
At one era it was Father Divine, Daddy Grace.
Reverend Ike came in that tradition.
PRYOR: Praise the Lord, praise the Lord.
GATES: Comedian Richard Pryor parodied Reverend Ike
in the film "Car Wash", as the character Daddy Rich.
PRYOR: There's a good place in this world for money,
yes siree, and I know where it is.
It's right here in my pocket.
WALTON: Many people would laugh and disparage
But, his fan base was in the millions.
IKE: I don't know how many thousands are here in
Madison Square Garden.
Look at the people as far as the eye can see.
Come on now and clap your hands to the glory of God.
Come on everybody!
WOMAN: I have been tuned in and turned on by the
teachings of Reverend Ike.
GLAUDE: I don't know who won post-1968,
Dr. King or Reverend Ike.
We claim Dr. King, but when we look at black Christendom,
it looks a lot like what Reverend Ike was doing.
IKE: Dream your dreams!
BARBER: How did we go from "I Have a Dream"
to "Bling Bling"?
How, how did we go from that?
MAN: No matter how much money you got that
can't buy with God.
BARBER: The Black Church has been very clear.
To be a person of faith, to be a body of faith,
is to be about the business of liberation.
And if it's not,
then what we are doing is just, um,
filling people with emotional fervor.
SIMMONS: You've always had those who've said,
it's the most important thing is saving folks' souls.
But if they can't eat,
they don't have a decent place to live,
what good did it do you to save their souls?
GATES: As conservative public policies eroded
the social safety net,
the 80s would demand a new kind of ministry
to counter the growing influence of the moral majority,
which overtly tied religion to race and political power.
FALWELL: During the 1980s,
we have a three-fold primary responsibility.
Number one, get people saved.
Number two, get them baptized.
Number three, get them registered to vote.
♪ GROUP: That's my son ♪
♪ dying on the cross ♪
♪ oh-oh-oh-oh ♪
♪ MAN: Wait a minute fellas, wait a minute, wait a minute. ♪♪
BUTTS: People were like sheep without a shepherd.
So the church had to try to maintain its balance,
particularly in the urban areas,
and a heightened attack on affirmative action,
And we had to just give people,
which is a very important part of the church, hope.
JACKSON: I am! CROWD: I am!
JACKSON: Black! CROWD: Black!
JACKSON: Beautiful! CROWD: Beautiful!
JACKSON: Proud! CROWD: Proud!
JACKSON: I AM! CROWD: I am!
JACKSON: Somebody. CROWD: Somebody.
JACKSON: Right on! CROWD: Right on!
GATES: The Reverend Jesse Jackson,
a protege of the late Dr. King,
challenged the Reagan administration on affirmative
action and other social justice issues.
JACKSON: Reagan won when we were asleep.
He won by the margin of despair.
SHARPTON: He had swagger and,
he didn't wear a suit and tie.
He had a big 'fro.
So I said, that's the kind of preacher I want to
be 'cause he never pastored at church.
He'd say the whole country is my pulpit.
GATES: With the moral majority mobilizing conservative
white Christians to get out the vote,
Reverend Jackson found ways to leverage the latent
power of black congregations to bring
Dr. King's activist spirit
directly into the political realm.
JACKSON: I announce to you, this day,
my decision to seek the nomination of the Democratic
Party for the presidency of the United States of America.
♪ MAN: Better run, better run, better, uh-huh, ♪
♪ you better run. ♪ ♪
GATES: During his campaign for the White House,
Reverend Jackson embraced the role of
the preacher politician,
a legacy that stretched back to reconstruction.
PINN: The logic is the same,
that the Black Church is prominent,
the black minister is a major symbol of leadership,
and that this prominent symbol of leadership
would then move into secular politics.
JACKSON: Don't you surrender.
Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith.
In the end faith will not disappoint.
Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive.
Keep hope alive.
GATES: Although he fell short of the nomination
in 1984 and 1988,
Reverend Jackson paved the way for a new generation
of leaders both in the church and outside of it.
SHARPTON: No justice! CROWD: No Peace!
SHARPTON: What do we want? CROWD: Justice!
SHARPTON: When do we want it? CROWD: Now!
SHARPTON: When do we want it? CROWD: Now!
GATES: Wearing his signature tracksuit,
gold medallion and pompadour, the Reverend Al Sharpton
dominated the headlines and the airwaves in New York City
during the 1980s,
in a period of intense racial strife.
♪ MAN: He walked the streets and carried a gun, ♪
♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah ♪
♪ To save his people and family, yeah ♪
♪ From those who killed us for 400 years ♪
♪ Bobby must be set free ♪♪
SHARPTON: A lot of my critics would say,
all Al Sharpton wants is publicity.
That's exactly what I want.
People don't come to me to keep a secret.
They come to me because they want me to make
it a public issue.
And I learned that as a kid in the King movement,
that if you can't make it a public issue,
you'll never get change.
GATES: As the fallout from the war on drugs led to
increased gang violence and police brutality
in black neighborhoods,
Reverend Sharpton saw his form of crisis-driven
activism as another way to keep Dr. King's
civil rights legacy alive, with a roving in-your-face
preacher at center stage.
SHARPTON: We're doing what Dr. King would have done.
He'd be in the streets with the victims' mothers.
♪ PUBLIC ENEMY: Fight the power. ♪♪
GATES: But, in those same streets,
a new kind of secular ministry began to emerge,
♪ CHUCK D: Fight the power. ♪♪
GATES: Young black people grabbing the mic for themselves.
CHUCK D: That march in 1963, that's a bit of nonsense,
we ain't rolling like that no more.
♪ And the rhythm designed to bounce ♪
♪ What counts is that the rhymes ♪ ♪
DYSON: Hip hop is a judgement against
silence and invisibility.
Hip hop seizes the microphone to amplify the urgent
drama of black dispossession.
These rappers are secular preachers.
HADLEY: The emergence of hip-hop creates a complicated
moment for Black Churches.
The church, which is often run by older
men in a lot of cases,
had a real problem with what hip-hop represented.
♪ ICE CUBE: Straight outta Compton, ♪
♪ crazy (bleep) named Ice Cube. ♪
♪ From the gang called, "Niggaz Wit Attitudes" ♪ ♪
HADLEY: This tension boils over with the rise of
quote-unquote "Gangsta rap".
You don't understand what is happening in my life
in this crack era.
And young people having to navigate through that,
it did the church no favors that their condemnation of
hip-hop was swift and decisive.
BUTTS: We're not against rap.
We are not against rappers.
But we are against those who have absolutely nothing of
redemptive value to offer.
GATES: The emergence of hip-hop reflected a
generational shift away from Black Churches.
There's a general perception that black
people of your generation,
millennial's, have strayed from the church.
PARKER: I think we're disenchanted with
the Black Church.
Black millennial's don't want to walk into a fantasy world
when they cross the threshold of a church.
You have to include what is real.
♪ FRANKLIN: For those of you that think we've ♪
♪ gotten too radical with our message. ♪
♪ Well I got news for ya. ♪
♪ You aint heard nothing yet. ♪
♪ GROUP: Jesus your love is so ♪ ♪
GATES: Once again, a segment of the church tried to bridge
that gap through music.
♪ GROUP: And when I think about your goodness it makes ♪
♪ me want to stomp. ♪
♪ FRANKLIN: You can't take my joy, Devil. ♪ ♪
GATES: In 1997, Kirk Franklin released the hit song "Stomp".
It featured a cameo by rapper Salt and a
sample from Funkadelic.
"Stomp" became the first gospel song ever to top the
Billboard R&B/Hip Hop charts.
♪ FRANKLIN: Can I get a witness up in here? ♪♪
GATES: How do you define gospel music?
FRANKLIN: Oh, really simple.
Gospel music is the good news of Jesus Christ.
It talks about the love, the beauty and the majesty
of Jesus because gospel music is not a sound.
Gospel music is a message.
♪ FRANKLIN: G.P. are you with me? ♪
♪ GROUP: Oh, yeah. We having church ♪
♪ ain't going nowhere ♪ ♪
GATES: There were a lot of people who said,
you're bringing devil music into the church.
Did you ever despair when you were taking criticism?
FRANKLIN: Yes. Yes.
I, I mean, many days I was angry,
and I think that the hesitancy to embrace change has
always been to our demise in the Black Church.
GATES: A younger generation's growing frustration with what
they saw as an increasingly conservative church
leadership caused some,
reluctantly, to abandon the sacred space that
had long stood at the heart of the black community.
GATES: Would you call yourself a religious person today?
LEGEND: I still have a lot of reverence for the
church and for the traditions that, um, I grew up in.
But I'm not actively religious now.
For folks who are progressive now,
I think the church just doesn't connect on all the
issues that we care about.
♪ WOMAN: There is a balm ♪
♪ In Gilead ♪
♪ To make the wounded whole. ♪♪
GATES: When an epidemic of biblical proportions
devastated communities across the country,
private religious organizations like
Balm in Gilead stepped in to help.
But more conservative Black Churches met the crisis
with a mixture of disapproving silence
or overt criticism.
LONG: You cannot say I was born this way.
I don't care what scientists say.
If you say you were born this way then you're saying
God you're a liar.
GLAUDE: Many black Christians are as conservative
as Mormons around questions of sexuality,
around questions of abortion,
around issues of women in the pulpit.
We can go down the line.
DEMONSTRATOR: AIDS is everyone's issue.
It doesn't belong to one sexuality, or to one race,
or to one group of people.
It's everybody's issue.
FLUNDER: During the dying years, the early years,
as I call HIV, I was losing tons of people.
I found myself trying to bridge the chasm between how
to be a person of faith and also do work in the earth.
The will of God is complicated.
'Cause sometimes God asks seemingly the most of you when
you seem to have the least to contribute.
I am so grateful that after everything that I have
experienced that I am still a believer.
I still believe in God.
And I believe God believes in me.
GATES: That's a remarkable testament.
♪ You need an anchor. ♪♪
That's what she said. You know, it James.
♪ Be very sure. ♪
♪ Be very sure your anchor holds. ♪♪
GATES: Tell me how you came to open City of Refuge.
FLUNDER: I said, you know,
I feel called to start a church,
and to call it City of Refuge.
A place where you can go and that you will be safe there.
♪ In times like these, ♪♪
We need an anchor.
♪ We need an anchor. ♪♪
You know, what we don't have, we must create,
a congregation that keeps the culture and the sound
of the Black Church sans the homophobic and fragile
patriarchy realities that exist in the churches
that we came from was a risky experiment.
We come because you told us we could come.
Because you care for us.
YOUNG: It's important in thinking about the Black Church
as to define it as a plural rather than a singular.
There are storefront urban churches in the North.
There are now, increasingly,
megachurches around the country.
And all of that contributes to the broader
fabric of black religiosity in the country.
GATES: Outside suffering cities,
the idea of building something new was also starting to
appeal to wealthy Black Americans who were moving to
the sun belt during the economic boom of the nineties.
The affluent sought a different kind of fulfillment
from their church home with a focus on the welfare,
needs and anxieties of the individual.
Since Dr. King died,
the black middle class has doubled,
and the black upper-middle class has quadrupled.
JAKES: You can't feed people who are not hungry.
If housing is not a problem, why build houses?
And as the times has changed,
the church has had to reinvent its focus
to respond to the needs.
I have taught entrepreneurship.
I have taught home ownership.
I have taught debt management.
And yes, I believe God will bless you.
GATES: Bishop T.D. Jakes' church,
The Potter's House,
sits on more than 400 acres on the outskirts of Dallas.
JAKES: When we were building it I was all up
in the rafters.
I was into everything.
GATES: How many people can you fit in the Potter's House?
♪ WOMAN: I tried and I tried, Lord. ♪♪
GATES: How do you get from being a storefront preacher in
Charleston, West Virginia to the Potter's House?
JAKES: It was just something that God started.
Since he started it, I had to trust him.
Christ said, "Upon this rock I build my church.
The gates of hell should not prevail against it."
Everybody in the kingdom has the same responsibility.
I don't care how many titles you got.
And I believe that there will always be a church.
It may not be after the fashion of what its fathers
thought it ought to be.
I am the god between your miracles.
'Cause I'm not just a god on the mountain,
in your valley.
I am the god while you're trying to get
over this hurdle.
I'm still God.
Oh I gotta quit. I feel my preacher...
WINFREY: The master, in my opinion, is T.D. Jakes.
I just heard a T.D. Jakes sermon and
I heard people say,
were you in my journal?
At first I was resistant to, like, the big, massive church,
because I grew up in this, like, cocoon.
But there's nothing like the community.
So, sometimes I will just get on my plane and fly
to Dallas to the Potter's House and
just sit in a service.
And hearing those "amen's" and "mm-hmm's" and,
"Preach, Bishop," you know.
GATES: That's right. WINFREY: Like, you know.
OBAMA: Are you fired up?
GATES: Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement,
many black pulpits remained on the margins of political life.
OBAMA: When we have faced down impossible odds,
Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up
the spirit of a people.
Yes, we can.
Yes, we can.
Yes, we can.
GATES: But, during his 2008 presidential campaign,
Senator Barack Obama embraced the themes and the
cadences of the activist Black Church.
At a speech commemorating the voting
rights campaign in Selma,
Obama cited the Old Testament story of Exodus.
OBAMA: The Moses generation...
GATES: And vowed to fulfill Dr. King's legacy and
lead his people, at long last,
to the promised land.
OBAMA: So, don't tell me that I don't have a claim
on Selma, Alabama.
I'm here because somebody marched for our freedom.
SHARPTON: He knows how to talk in a way that we understand
the message, like a minister, without being a minister.
And he's very good at it and very sincere about it.
GATES: Obama and his family regularly attended
Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Its lead pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright,
officiated Barack and Michelle's wedding and
baptized their children.
For decades, under Rev. Wright's
the church had effectively put black theology
PINN: There were benefits to involvement in Trinity
that he embraced but the radical edge of
this black theology was not a part of the platform
that President Obama embraced.
WRIGHT: Where Governments lie, God does not lie.
Where Governments change, God does not change.
When it came to treating the citizens of
African descent fairly,
America failed and then wants us to sing
"God Bless America."
No, no, no.
Not "God Bless America"; God Damn America!
That's in the Bible, for killing innocent people.
God Damn America.
GATES: But in March 2008, controversy erupted over
Rev. Wright's five-year old sermon on the Iraq War.
The sermon went viral.
REPORTER: Barack Obama's church is scrambling to undo
the impression it is a ministry...
O'REILY: Obama's preacher is on the record saying a number of
troubling anti-American things.
HANNITY: Holding these black separatist views.
REPORTER 2: Do we really see anything that is this bold?
GATES: One of your sermons gained a lot of attention.
Why do you think it was so controversial?
WRIGHT: I think they became controversial because they did
not follow the, we love this, my country right or wrong,
make America great again kind of thinking.
SAVAGE: It's an encapsulation of both a fear
of African American religion and also the mystery
of African American religion,
to people who don't attend Black Churches
or never have.
GATES: Desperate to put his campaign back on track,
Obama delivered a speech that he called,
"A More Perfect Union" or what became known as
his 'race speech'.
OBAMA: Like other predominantly Black Churches
across the country, Trinity contains in full the
kindness and cruelty,
the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance,
the struggles and successes, the love and, yes,
the bitterness and biases that make up the
black experience in America.
GATES: Although his experiences at Trinity had a
profound influence on his understanding of what it meant
to be black in America,
Obama, according to his critics,
weakened his ties to this church,
to its theology and, especially, to its pastor,
all of which had done so much to launch him on the path
to the White House.
♪ FRANKLIN: My country tis of thee. ♪
♪ Sweet land of liberty. ♪
♪ Of thee I sing. ♪ ♪
DOUGLAS: James Baldwin said that there comes a time in
every African American's life when they discover that the
flag for which you have pledged allegiance and such
loyalty has not pledged allegiance and loyalty to you.
♪ FRANKLIN: Let free, freedom, freedom ring. ♪♪
GATES: Even with a black president in the White House,
police violence against unarmed black men
But now, it was caught on video.
OFFICER: Put your hands behind your head!
GARNER: I can't breathe.
I can't breathe.
SHARPTON: Our national field director called and
said there's a man on the phone crying,
saying that the police killed his grandson.
I'm in the middle of the Eric Garner fight,
just three weeks.
And he told me are you near a computer?
Michael Brown was still laying on the ground in Ferguson.
And I said, "Sir, I'll be there,
day after tomorrow."
Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot.
He wants to be remembered as the one that made America deal
with how we gonna police in the United States.
I know how this story gonna end.
The first will be last.
The last will be first.
Justice is gonna come! Justice is gonna come!
Justice gon' come!
GATES: The protests inspired a political movement
that deftly used social media hash tags like
"hands up don't shoot"
and "I can't breathe" to encourage activism.
WOMAN: Don't shoot.
♪ MAN: Eric Garner, say his name. ♪
♪ Eric Garner won't you say his name. ♪
♪ Trayvon Martin, say his name ♪
♪ Trayvon Martin, say his name ♪
♪ Trayvon Martin, say his name ♪
♪ Trayvon Martin, won't say his name ♪ ♪
GATES: But these new school activists rejected old models
of political leadership,
including the role of the church.
RANSBY: Young women have been very important leaders
in the movement for Black lives.
WOMAN: No justice
CROWD: No peace.
RANSBY: But it's not steeped in a religious institution,
and it's certainly not steeped in a kind of patriarchal
tradition that is often represented in the formal
institutions of the Black Church.
♪ GROUP: Hell you talmbout? ♪♪
GATES: But some clergy hit the streets of Ferguson
with the young protestors.
Pastor Traci Blackmon led prayer vigils in front
of police stations.
BLACKMON: I scheduled a prayer vigil,
and about halfway through, the young people said,
"That's enough praying."
OFFICER: If you are in the street you need
to exit the street immediately!
BLACKMON: So these young people, they abandoned the institution.
They didn't necessarily abandon God.
The Ferguson uprising was church.
MAN: It's time to put black lives on the forefront
of the thoughts of all Americans.
GATES: In that moment,
Pastor Blackmon believed that the presence of
oppression and police brutality called for a
different type of ministering.
BLACKMON: I'm not an activist, I'm a pastor.
One is called to be both priest and prophet.
The prophet has to have the courage to
speak truth to power.
And the priest has to always care for those who
are being harmed emotionally and physically.
Yet, the color of our skin still makes us a target.
What's the address of the emergency?
WOMAN: Please. Emanuel Church.
There's plenty of people shot down here.
Please send somebody right away.
OPERATOR: Emanuel Church?
And there's people shot?
WOMAN: Yeah, he shot the pastor.
He shot all the men in the church.
Please come right away.
He's still in here.
I'm afraid he's still in here.
God please help me.
Oh my God.
NEWSCASTER: The nation is waking up to news of
as senseless act of violence in Charleston, South Carolina.
Right now the search is on for a white gunman who entered a
Black Church last night and started shooting.
The massacre killed nine people.
GATES: This was not the first racist attack
on this congregation.
MAN: Somebody wanna know why.
We need you Lord.
Lord why tonight?
GATES: Nearly two centuries before,
white people had destroyed Charleston's
main Black Church.
After the Civil War, it was proudly rebuilt as
Mother Emanuel AME Church.
SHARPTON: It was the worst fears come alive again.
It was the four girls bombed in the church
in Birmingham again.
This is in a bible class, in the Black Church.
Historic Black Church, Mother AME.
The core of who we are.
And if we couldn't protect ourselves there,
what are we gonna do?
OBAMA: We do not know whether the killer of
Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history.
But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act.
An act that he presumed would deepen divisions
that trace back to our nation's original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.
GATES: In the face of unthinkable racial violence,
the man who, during his first presidential campaign,
had navigated the complex web of race,
religion and politics became the pastor for the nation.
OBAMA: Amazing Grace.
♪ Amazing Grace ♪
(applause and cheering)
♪ How sweet the sound ♪♪
SHARPTON: And that was the moment that this man
who looked like us could stand up there and tell us,
but remember "Amazing Grace".
We needed that.
GATES: The massacre was part of a resurgence of
white supremacist activity that many of us thought
we'd never see again.
CURRY: Something has been let loose,
and so religious folk
must create a counter-narrative to that.
And I think the teachings of Jesus are just as clear that
Christian folk and Christian leaders cannot abide or
countenance anybody's supremacy over anybody else.
White or anything, um, and cannot remain silent.
Silence is consent.
BARBER: I'm a preacher and I'm a theologically conservative
liberal evangelical Biblicist.
GATES: Reverend William Barber saw a chance to recenter
questions of faith,
freedom and liberation in the church.
WOMAN: What do we want? CROWD: Policy!
WOMAN: When do we want it? CROWD: Now!
GATES: After right wing politicians in the
North Carolina legislature passed
voter suppression laws and made cuts to healthcare,
this son of a preacher reached back to the
lessons of the prophets to inform his activism.
BARBER: As clergy we came together and said,
we don't need a left critique or a right critique
or a conservative or liberal.
We need a moral critique.
And what we're gonna do is,
we're gonna walk in the legislature,
with the Bible in one hand and the Constitution
in the other.
CROWD: Health care! BARBER: Now!
BARBER: A lot of people came to Moral Monday and
would say this to me:
"I had walked away from the church.
At Moral Mondays, I found my faith again."
CROWD: We'll change. BARBER: America!
BARBER: Because people know there's something wrong with a
religion that has nothing to say about the oppressive
realities that exist in life.
God is the God of the oppressed.
GATES: The foundation of the African American spiritual
journey was formed out of fragments of faith that our
ancestors brought with them to this continent
starting 500 years ago.
And out of those fragments grew the powerful institution
that we fondly call "The Black Church."
HARVEY: The Black Church is fundamental to the
African American experience.
The African American experience is fundamental
to American history.
Therefore, Black Churches are fundamental
to American history.
JAKES: There will always be moments that
push us back to our faith,
because life has a way of reminding you that you
need something bigger than you to get through a season.
BLACKMON: The Black Church for me
still remains the strongest,
demonstration of God with us that we have.
And it is those small, Black Churches,
that have made the difference in our communities.
It is that strength that I want the church to tap back into.
GATES: After so many years distanced from it,
I had finally come to understand more fully the
meaning and the magic of the Black Church.
Oh my girl. I made it.
WOMAN: Oh my goodness.
This is where my life in the church started.
I was 12 years old.
And it was a Sunday, and Momma hugged me and she told
me she was gonna die.
And they took her to the hospital.
So, I went upstairs in my bedroom.
I didn't tell anybody.
I just prayed.
And I told Jesus that, if you let my mother live,
I'd give my life to Christ.
About three days later, she got better,
and she came home.
So I got up, looked in the mirror and went, uh oh.
I had made a deal with Jesus.
You don't mess with God.
And I came to this church every Sunday.
And I joined the choir.
And I still sing all the hymns.
Um. My favorite hymn of all time was
Miss Toot's "Prodigal Son".
♪ Oh, I believe, ♪
♪ I believe, I will go back home. ♪
♪ Well, I believe, ♪
♪ I believe, I will go back home. ♪
♪ I believe, I believe, ♪
♪ I will go back home and ♪
♪ be a servant for the Lord. ♪ ♪
Oh my God that is...
Thank you so much for coming.
The Black Church was the place where our people
somehow made a way out of no way.
And, it's the place, after a long and tiresome
journey to which we can always return and call home.
WOMAN: I'm gonna have your cake when you come on by.
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