Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North

By Arthur Huff Fauset | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THERE is no more poorly understood area of Afro-American life than that of its churches, cults, and sects. Throughout the history of the black man in the United States, his churches have been the subject of fanciful speculation by scholars, sensationalists, reformers, entertainers, and bigots. All have seen these religious institutions in terms of their own preconceptions—as enemies of black liberation, as poor imitations of European religions, as static representations of the spiritual past of men, and so on.

The beginning point for understanding any religious institution is at least elementary knowledge of its practices and beliefs. But it is a sad fact that we have better descriptions—incomplete as they are—of religious beliefs and practices in West Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean than we have of those of black people in the United States. And it is in this respect that Black Gods of the Metropolis is a singularly important book. Fauset, in writing one of the first books of urban American ethnography, took very seriously the culture of the Negroes of North America. Unfortunately, Afro-American cultural studies have proceeded very slowly since the original publication of this book, and so at least a few words on the problems of such studies are in order.

Fauset briefly mentions one of the central dilemmas of AfroAmerican studies when he considers the controversy that existed in the 1940’s between the black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier and the white anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits.1 It was Frazier’s view that the African heritage of Negroes in North America had been virtually destroyed under the damaging experiences of slavery, and that the slave and his descendants came to embrace the white European’s culture as a means of organizing and directing their experiences after Emancipation. Frazier further argued that a continual history of racial exclusion and dis

1. The central sources for this debate are Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past, (N.Y.: Harper and Bros.), 1941, and E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro in the United States, (N.Y.: Macmillan), 1949. For additional comment and references, see Norman E. Whitten, Jr. and John F. Szwed, eds., Afro-American Anthropology: Contemporary Perspectives, (N.Y.: Free Press), 1970, p. 28.

-xvii-

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Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Introduction xvii
  • Author’s Note to the Paperback Edition xxiii
  • I - Negro Religious Cults in the Urban North 1
  • II - Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America, Inc 13
  • III - United House of Prayer for All People 22
  • IV - Church of God (Black Jews) 31
  • V - Moorish Science Temple of America 41
  • VI - Father Divine Peace Mission Movement 52
  • VII - Comparative Study 68
  • VIII - Why the Cults Attract 76
  • IX - The Cult as a Functional Institution 87
  • X - The Negro and His Religion 96
  • XI - Summary of Findings 107
  • Appendix A - Selected Case Materials 111
  • Bibliography 123
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