Religion and religious institutions have pervaded the lives of Black people as long as they have lived in the United States. This is particularly true for Black women. Moreover, the predominant need to focus on physical and emotional survival for well over 250 years was a most powerful component in the matrix of circumstances out of which Black religion in the United States evolved. A full exploration of African American women's civil rights activism, therefore, should include analysis of their religious consciousness (particularly, but not only, their Black Christian consciousness) and its relationship to motivations that foster ordinary and superlative practices by many Black women activists. In addition, we must note the role of racial oppression in shaping various expressions of Black religion as well as the experience of Black people in America.
Because of the racism historically inherent in American society, many scholars argue that there never was nor ever could have been a Black religion of the pre-Civil Rights Era that focused solely on other-worldly ends. Theological and, by consequence, religious knowing among African Americans has pragmatic origins, embedded in a predecessor African spirituality but related directly to this prominent need to attend to survival concerns related to racial oppression. Moreover, the primary need to focus on racial advancement always developed alongside the collateral need to address formal and informal social policies and conventions that engendered racial oppression.
As an exploration of religious moral practice, this book argues that Black women's civil rights activism is their female enactment of Black religious values that reflected an internal concern for the Black community's survival and flourishing and a related external concern to address society's formal and conventional sources of inequality.