Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

The Enduring Legacy of an African-American Plantation Church

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

The Enduring Legacy of an African-American Plantation Church

Article excerpt

Rosedown Baptist Church, a small African-American(1) church located on the Rosedown Plantation in rural West Feliciana Parish in southeastern Louisiana, was established initially as a slave church on the Rosedown Plantation in 1800.(2) Like many African-American churches in the South, Rosedown Baptist had its roots in a religious congregation that was organized on a plantation during the time of slavery.(3) However, it is significant that this church is one of the few remaining African-American churches that is still located on a plantation.(4) It has survived many "trials and tribulations" over a period of almost 200 years.(5) It survived the oppression of slavery, the hardships of the neoslavery emancipation period, the racial and economic strife of the Reconstruction period, the social and political crisis of the Civil Rights Era, and the turbulent social and economic changes of the 1970s and 1980s.(6) Also, the church has survived major structural changes in the Rosedown Plantation system, including changes in social and economic organization and the succession of plantation owners. The enduring legacy of this small, rural, African-American church has created a rich history that contains much information that can help explain how an African-American plantation church survived in the South, through slavery, to the present time. This enduring legacy provides an opportunity to study the social history of an African-American plantation church in its natural setting, based primarily on oral history accounts of elders of the church.

The purpose of this study is to explore the factors that influenced the survival of a small, rural, African-American church that has been situated within a plantation setting for almost 200 years. A major premise of this study is that the survival of the Rosedown Baptist Church cannot be understood fully without an understanding of its changing structural and dynamic relationships with the plantation system from which it emerged. Specifically, changes in the social organization of the plantation system directly influenced changes in the social organization and survival of the plantation church. This case study of a small, rural, African-American plantation church may provide some clues on how other churches with similar backgrounds and histories managed to survive during the same period. Also, this study will add to the knowledge of the cultural heritage of small, rural African-American churches in the South and how they have become an "endangered species."

In the plantation system, the aesthetic, social, and cultural life of slaves was considered of little of no value by plantation owners. Thus, extensive records on the organization and activities of plantation churches were not maintained by plantation owners, nor did the churches themselves keep many records of religious events? Consequently, there is a scarcity of data on the historical development of plantation churches. In this study, a combination of primary and secondary data was used. Primary data were obtained from oral history interviews conducted with key informants, who were knowledgeable about the history of the Rosedown Baptist Church and the Rosedown Plantation, including church elders, ministers, descendants of the plantation, and long-time residents of the study area. The objective of the oral history method was to get the interviewees to provide relevant historical information about a particular subject. Interviews were conducted in homes, churches, and communities of the respondents, which permitted the researcher to observe relevant physical and social surroundings. A series of visits were made to the church and plantation to obtain information about their characteristics and organization. Secondary data were collected from a variety of sources, including the Louisiana State Archives, church records, newspapers, books, journals, and plantation records.

Studies on the history of African-American churches can be divided into two general categories. …

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