When the first Africans were taken from their homeland to be sold into bondage in the Americas, their religion was left behind with their freedom back in Africa. Their native religions, as well as their languages and various other aspects of culture, were banned from practice in the New World, with Christianity and English imposed upon them as substitutes. As portrayed by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs in their respective slave narratives, Christianity served as a weapon of suppression for slave owners in the antebellum South. However, instead of accepting Christianity as justification for slavery in America, slaves made the religion their own, interpreting Christianity as support for the freedom and equality of all people.
[...] She knows that the Scripture tells to “'Proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of prison doors to them that are bound,'” and the message is inspiring even if it was first heard from a proslavery preacher (313). When slaves needed a unifying ideology that justified their freedom from exploitation, they had to look no further than the religion imposed on them. Christianity, a source of justification for slavery among slave owners in the South, served ideally as a substitute [...]
[...] She is forsaken by her grandmother, the only person who cares for her, and continues to suffer after the birth of her child, a victim of degradation, the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery [that] are more than [she] can describe,” (288). Douglass' narrative features another slave woman that suffers greatly for the sake of her master's reward. Caroline, a large twenty year old woman, is purchased by Edward Covey, he said, for a breeder,” (423). Covey, a poor white farm-renter known as a “nigger-breaker” for his ability to break young slaves, hires a married man to “fasten up with her every night,” (423). [...]
[...] He explains that he does not disdain all religion, distinguishing between slaveholding religion of this land” and the “Christianity of Christ,” that he loves (448). The former is the church of man who wields the bloodclotted cowskin during the week [and] fills the pulpit on Sunday, [claiming] to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus,” (448). It is the religion under which [are] sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babies sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!” (448). [...]
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