The Sacred History
Why is this piece of American history is called the Sacred History? Spirituals sung by slaves during times of tribulation have been described as sacred. Like the spirituals this history appears to support and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This story starts in Africa, the birthplace of all man kind. A recent study called "Journey of Man" studied the DNA of people all over the world. The study revealed that all humans evolved from people that look similar to modern African Bushmen. The only thing that separates variations in skin color around the world is the mutation of a single gene. Old ideas of race have changed.
African slaves lost their identity when they were enslaved by Africans and shipped to America. The work of historian Dr. Mechal Sobel in her book called "Trablin on" reveals however that they established a new identity that was found in the Bible. They believed that they were the "Children of Israel."
Ancestors that reside in heaven played an important role in the lives of Africans. They were included in the prayers of the living and they petitioned them for guidance and protection. Slavery broke the chain between ancestors and their descendants. Family members were separated when sold and it was common for slaves to not know deceased ancestors. Slaves were introduced to Christianity by their owners to address their own guilt and Jesus took the place of their ancestors. Jesus had ministered to the “undesirables” during his life and accepted those that were discarded and disliked by the tribe. Jesus gave comfort to the lame, the blind, the sick, the deformed and the informant.
Then he said, `If anyone takes in a child like this for my sake, he takes in me. And if anyone takes in me, he takes in the one who sent me. The one who takes the least or lowest place among you is the greatest.' Luke 9:48
Slave owners created an environment of hopelessness for their slaves. This was done to discourage slaves from taking action to obtain their freedom. Both mental and physical chains bound slaves. Chains restricted their physical movement and mental chains removed hope.
How does one over come a feeling of hopelessness so that action can be taken when they have no power to influence their future? Black’s were not allowed to read or write but God gave them the gift of song. The answer is in a spiritual which says “God specializes, in things thought impossible. He can do what no other power can do.” Although they were not allowed to read the Bible nor pray together, they often stole away to Jesus in the woods and practice their faith in the face of great danger. These secret prayer meetings or "steal away" was illegal throughout the South and if caught the penalty was flogging. These prayer meetings were outlawed because slaves prayed for freedom and the secret meetings were considered a risk to Southern American national security.
Former slaves constantly refer to themselves as “niggers.” The word “nigger” came from the pronunciation of the Latin word “neger” or “neeger” which in English and German means "black." The word neger was dropped from the English language and replaced with the word "nigger." The word nigger became a derogatory label because slaves were extremely oppressed by English speaking people. "Negro" was the Spanish word for "black." The Spanish had more regard for their slaves than Americans, so the word Negro is not a derogatory label. The practice of using the word nigger to refer to African Americans has continued in African American culture however it remains derogatory. The common use of the word nigger is being challenged however by the African American community.
The horrors of slavery were kept in darkness. A romanticized view of happy or content slaves prevailed in the South. The book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” revealed slave life for the first time and sparked the Civil War. The life of millions of slave went undocumented until the WPA Federal Writers Project of the nineteen-thirties. Thousands of former slaves were interviewed and their lives in slavery days were recorded. These slave narratives reveal the religious life of these people.
It was a wide spread believe throughout the South that black slaves believed that they we the Children of Israel. Referring to the church congregation as "children" still occurs in black churches today. What would make those that were held in low regard, believe that they were biblical characters? Slaves chose the biblical identity of the Children of Israel because that identity gave them hope. The Mary Reynolds narrative is one of the most descriptive narrative of slavery that was recorded. In the Mary Reynolds narrative she said that they prayed for the end of "tribulation." The word “tribulation” occurs only in the Book of Revelation 7:2-14.
Several descriptions of the Children of Israel in Revelation are similar to the plight of the American black slave. First, in Revelation the Children of Israel are described as being made up of many tribes and tongs. This description fits African slaves since their homelands were widely distributed over of Africa. Many of these tribes were enemies in Africa and enslaved each other in war. Slaves with different languages were mixed together and they had to learn the common language of "English." Second, Revelation says that their clothes were cleaned in the “Blood of the Lamb.” African Americans either free or enslaved were forbidden from congregating in prayer meetings under penalty of flogging if caught. During floggings, the whip tore their skin, which bloodied their clothes. The lamb stands for innocents and praying for freedom was an innocent act. Finally, the Revelation Children of Israel also came out of great tribulation. American slave Mary Reynolds referred to slavery as tribulation and she said that they prayed for its end. An old slave told her that one day they will only be slaves of God. If the American slaves were the Children of Israel described in Revelation then they would be delivered from tribulation and delivered to “the promise land” where they would serve the one on the throne day and night. They were not seeking pride or vanity from the Children of Israel identity, but they sought to be delivered from tribulation.
American slavery was cruel which had a devastating affect on tender hearted slavers as well as slaves. Tender hearts ranged from common house-wives to the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alex Stephens. Slavers that were hard hearted and indifferent had no trouble sleeping at night after inflicting cruelty on slaves. Tenderhearted people on the other hand had compassion and could feel the pain that the slave experienced. Their tender hearts were frequently broken as well, unless they chose to take action
John Newton was one of the first men to speak out against slavery. Newton claimed that Jesus would not condone it. Newton was well acquainted with the horrors of slavery since he had commanded a slave ship. Newton suggested that the slaver was possibly more damaged by slavery than the slave. The slave lost all his liberty and possessions but the slaver often lost his humanity. Newton documented his religious conversion in the song he wrote called “Amazing Grace.”
Like Newton, John Brown believed that Jesus would not support slavery. He felt that a rebellion was the answer and he was hung following its failure. Slaves sang "He is gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord." His death ignited the Civil War and inspired the song “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Few people believed that slaves would fight for their freedom. In fact, the shame that slaves bore was largely due to their apparent acceptance of their humiliating situation. There were however, forward thinking minds that believed that black men would fight for their freedom if given an opportunity. White men such as General Hunter, General Butler and eventually Abraham Lincoln supported John Brown’s plan of “Arming the Negro.”
Harriet Tubman was the first woman to lead a Federal army into battle in the history of the United States. In 1863 she guided Col. Montgomery and 300 black soldiers into the South. They returned with 800 slaves and thousands of dollars worth of goods as well.
Preachers play an important role in Black History. Since slaves had no control over their lives, they learned to rely on the power of God. The role of the preacher was to teach his followers about that power and show them how to use it to improve their daily lives. The preacher Big Bob realized that it was important for Blacks to fight for their freedom so he led is congregation on the battlefield as well as from the pulpit.
White officer’s that led black men were the most intelligent, brave and moral men in either Union or Confederate armies. Confederates targeted their white officers because they felt that black men would run if their white officers were shot. The white officers that led black men were also criticized by friends and family members for fighting with Black men.
The First black Union Civil War regiment to be organized was the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (Colored). They were composed of former slaves and they called themselves the Gospel Army. They believed that this was the time chosen by God for their deliverance. The Gospel Army enlistment was followed by 130 black regiments representing 7 Cavalry (7,000 men), 120 Infantry (100,000 men), 12 Heavy Artillery (12,000 men) and 10 companies of Light Artillery (1,300 men). They fought in nearly 400 battles including the Battle of Port Hudson, Millikens Bend, Fort Wagner, Petersburg, Honey Hill, New Market Heights, Saltville and Nashville.
General Butler mustered the first black regiment into the Union Army. They were free blacks from New Orleans and were called The Louisiana Native Guard. They were the only black regiment to have black officers and they fought in the first major black Civil war battle, Battle of Port Hudson. The Battle of Millikens Bend also occurred in Louisiana. Black troops carried the battle but had more casualties than any Union regiment during a battle in the Civil War. It is reported that white Union troops ran at Millikens Bend. The 54th Massachusetts were depicted in a movie called "Glory." They fought bravely at Fort Wagner. Petersburg was an important Union target and was under siege. An elaborate plan was developed that called for a tunnel be dug under Confederate lines then destroy with explosives. Black troops were planed to lead the attack but were replaced with white troops by General Grant. Results were a disaster and Grant admitted that he made the error. Black troops from Michigan fought at Honey Hill, with courage and determination.
At the battle of New Market Heights occurred outside of the Confederate capital of Richmond Va. The 14 Congressional Medals of Honor given to black soldiers, who fought in the Battle of New Market Heights remains the highest honor given by America to a group of African Americans. The medals were given to flag bears that saved the flag for a rallying point under heavy fire. Medals were also given to sergeants that rallied their men after their white officers were killed or wounded. Since these were the first Congressional Medals of Honor given to Blacks, the battle proved that “all men are created equal.” Prior to the Union victory at New Market Heights, President Lincoln trailed his anti-slave liberation candidate in his bid for re-election. Union victories at New Market Heights and Atlanta were enough for Lincoln to pass his opponent and win the election. Both colonels that led the charge at New Market Heights, were promoted to General. They made sure that their black troops were placed at the front of the Union Army when they entered the Confederate capitol of Richmond Virginia.
At the Battle of Saltville Va. black troops displayed their character and humanity. On the way to the battle they were teased and insulted. During the battle they carried the battle line and treated their rebel prisoners humanely. Even after suffering abuse by their slave masters while being slaves and following the murder of black troops captured by confederates.
Following the Civil War the slavery experience was used to bring people closer to Jesus. Gospel groups such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers used the sacred songs of slavery to touch the hearts and soul of people around the world.
This is the history of 20 million people but it is not well known. It is not taught in public schools yet it is "common knowledge" American history. This history can be found on the web, in book stores or in libraries. Perhaps it is because this history is sacred and must be taught with The Gospel.
The Gospel Army Black History Group,
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