African-American Children at Church: A Sociocultural Perspective

African-American Children at Church: A Sociocultural Perspective

African-American Children at Church: A Sociocultural Perspective

African-American Children at Church: A Sociocultural Perspective


In African-American Children at Church Dr. Haight provides a vital description of child rearing in a Black community in the western United States. Based upon an extensive, naturalistic study of adult-child interaction, the book describes the beliefs and childrearing practices of successful African-American adults, focusing on the role of religion in children's development. The book includes descriptions of adult-child storytelling, conflict, and play in Sunday School and describes how research results were used to develop a preventive, educational intervention for children.


Religious beliefs can be central to children's healthy development. In the following narrative fragment, Mrs. Edith Hudley, a 73-year-old AfricanAmerican, recounted to me her experiences as a 7-year-old child walking to a segregated school.

The whites would be walking one way, and we'd be walking the other. They'd yell at us, “You dirty, black niggers! We hate you! We hate you!” I'd go to Mama and ask her, “Why do they hate us?” She'd always take me to the Bible. She taught me that God loves us all. God is the judge. She taught me not to take hate inside of myself. (Haight, 1998, p. 213)

Mrs. Hudley went on to explain that when we hate, we destroy that part of God which he left inside each of us when he created us. Thus, from Mrs. Hudley's perspective, she was not the victim of this story; rather, her taunters were (Haight, 1998).

As a scientifically educated developmental psychologist, my interest in African-American children's religious experiences emerged only gradually through repeated exposure to stories such as this one. As Mrs. Hudley spontaneously recounted her own experiences, I often wondered how children of any ethnicity could develop optimally within racist communities. As I listened more closely, it became clear that, for Mrs. Hudley, human development is rooted in spirituality, a perspective in which everyday human events are contextualized by strongly held and deeply felt personal beliefs about the meaning of life including an ultimate love, which all may receive, and an ultimate justice, to which all are accountable.

I first met Mrs. Hudley and the other individuals described in this book in the summer of 1991. My family had just moved from Illinois to Utah. Although my husband and I were very excited about our new jobs . . .

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