A Journey of Faith ; PBS Documentary Explores the Power of Religious Faith throughout African-Americans' History

Article excerpt

In many churches and neighborhoods, segregation is still a way of life. It's not that people of different races don't want to get together, necessarily, but many people tend to gravitate to familiar faces, say historians.

"Today people are looking for answers," says director W. Noland Walker about continuing racial isolation. A man of faith himself, he acknowledges vast changes in this country and anticipates a more compassionate future society - though he points out that Jim Crow laws were struck down only 40 years ago and it will take patience and especially faith to heal the old wounds.

This Far By Faith (PBS, June 24-26, check local listings) has been a long time coming; a documentary that finally gives due credit to the sustaining power of religious faith in the story of slavery.

The six-part series eloquently demonstrates what sustained, motivated, and finally helped free African-American people. If you don't have the time for all six parts, try to catch at least the first hour.

Part I, "There Is a River," turns the darkest part of the story - the dawn of slavery in the Americas - into a story of the evolution of African-American religious thought.

"They came to these shores with religious traditions they had practiced for thousands of years - what a multiplicity, what a diversity Africans brought to this country," says historian Rachel Harding of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

As slaves were forced to abandon their heritage and accept Christianity, they developed a new way of expressing themselves in their churches, she says.

Church was the one place slaves could unite in community.

Working from sunup to sun-down, they went to the "praise house" after work, finding release in evangelical religious ecstasy. And they found affirmation of their humanity in stories from the Bible.

As is pointed out throughout the series, music plays a special role in African-American spirituality. …