That churches are one of the most important cornerstones of black political organization is a commonplace. In this history of African American Protestantism and American politics at the end of the Civil War, Nicole Myers Turner challenges the idea of black churches as having always been politically engaged. Using local archives, church and convention minutes, and innovative Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, Turner reveals how freedpeople in Virginia adapted strategies for pursuing the freedom of their souls to worship as they saw fit—and to participate in society completely in the evolving landscape of emancipation.
Freedpeople, for both evangelical and electoral reasons, were well aware of the significance of the physical territory they occupied, and they sought to organize the geographies that they could in favor of their religious and political agendas at the outset of Reconstruction. As emancipation included opportunities to purchase properties, establish black families, and reconfigure gender roles, the ministry became predominantly male, a development that affected not only discourses around family life but also the political project of crafting, defining, and teaching freedom. After freedmen obtained the right to vote, an array of black-controlled institutions increasingly became centers for political organizing on the basis of networks that mirrored those established earlier by church associations.
MAP 5.3 Map of 1881 gubernatorial election results. An interactive version of this map can be found in the Fulcrum edition. Sources: ICPSR; United States Historical Election Returns, 1824–1968 [computer file]; church data gathered from convention minutes.
MAP 5.2 Map of 1877 gubernatorial election results. The Virginia Baptist State Convention of 1877 (outlined in white) did not encompass many of the very few counties that went strongly for Republicans in the 1877 gubernatorial election. Republicans and Readjusters had their work cut out for them in turning more of the state toward their goals. An interactive version of this map can be found in the Fulcrum edition. Sources: ICPSR; United States Historical Election Returns, 1824–1968 [computer file]; Minutes of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, 1879.
MAP 5.4 Map of 1885 gubernatorial election results. By 1885, when the Readjusters lost control of the legislature, most of the VBSC counties remained lukewarm supporters of the Republican-Readjuster ticket. An interactive version of this map can be found in the Fulcrum edition. Sources: ICPSR; United States Historical Election Returns, 1824–1968 [computer file]; Minutes of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, 1885.
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