It's time for another entry in the ongoing series "The Preachers", in which I look at some of the United States' most influential spiritual/religious leaders. All of the previous entries are of people who had their biggest impact in the 20th Century, even if they were born in the 19th. This post, however, will take us back to the Antebellum Period, when the Industrial Revolution was just taking off in the North and cotton was king in the South. Oh, and there were thousands and thousands and thousands of Black slaves.
The slaves, coming from various countries (mostly in west Africa), originally spoke different languages and followed different religions. From Kimberly Sambol-Tosco at PBS:
At the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, African religious beliefs and practices were numerous and varied. In addition to a wide variety of polytheistic religions, a significant portion of the continent had for centuries fallen under Islamic influence. Despite this diversity, there were some common threads across cultural groups. For instance, West African societies, the largest source for American slaves, shared a belief in a Supreme Creator, a chief deity among lesser gods, to whom they prayed and made sacrifices. Through laws and customs honoring the gods, the ancestors of one's people, and the elderly, West Africans sought a harmonious balance between the natural and spiritual worlds. Further, they made music and dance vital components of their worship practices. Enslaved men and women kept the rites, rituals, and cosmologies of Africa alive in America through stories, healing arts, song, and other forms of cultural expression, creating a spiritual space apart from the white European world.
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