Around the Family Altar: Domesticity in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1865-1900

Article excerpt

Around the Family Altar: Domesticity in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1865-1900. By Julius H. Bailey. [The History of African-American Religions Series.] (Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2005.Pp. xii, 152. $59.95.)

The jacket cover of this 112-page historical study of the African Methodist Episcopal Church proclaims that the author, Julius H. Bailey, "presents a new understanding of family life in American religious history." I truly wish that this were true. Around the Family Altar: Domesticity in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1865-1900, is not a completely lacking study of some aspects of the Church as written about by some few privileged individuals, mostly men. Indeed, Professor Bailey, on faculty at the University of the Redlands in California, has culled an arena of historical research previously not widely considered.

Within the few pages of this book, plus its notes to chapters, bibliography, and index, the reader will be introduced to writings in AME Church publications that engage the general discourse on issues of domesticity in the United States between 1865 and 1900. Bailey sets his sites specifically on "moments of intense interest in the family and the most outspoken (my emphasis) advocates and opponents of domestic ideology, especially those that invoked a particularly strong response in AME periodicals such as the Christian Recorder" Equally, Professor Bailey's self proclaimed concern is only in exploring "ways contributors to nineteenth century AME literature imagined and presented the ideal black family and home to advance causes large and small in the church and American society" (p. 7).

I admit that I thought Dr. Bailey's book would be a deep historical exploration of the AME Church and issues of domesticity. To my surprise, as early as page 15, he begins probing the larger, white U. …