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African American Citizenship Diversity Religious Liberty We are Overcomers

Faith Journeys in the Black Experience, 1619-2019

AE Curator Mar 06
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The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was later the basis for the First Amendment, granted freedom of worship and religion. But it wasn’t truly for all.

Despite this, religion was and still is an anchor for the African-American community. It serves as a moral compass and a place of refuge during challenging times. During the birth of the first colonies through the slavery era, European settlers manipulated and exploited these religious values, often using religion to justify and support slavery.

Throughout Virginia history, there were religious leaders who advocated for African Americans. During the late 18th century, Baptist plantation owner, Robert Carter, freed more than 500 slaves. While in the early 20th century, Julius Rosenwald was motivated by his Jewish faith and Booker T. Washington‘s request to fund construction of thousands of educational facilities for African Americans across the South. 

Additionally, the establishment of Richmond Theological School for Freedmen (now Virginia Union University) shed a positive light on what was once the site of Lumpkin’s Jail, a former slave holding facility. Today, it houses one of the most prominent seminary programs in the area and is the alma mater of Henry Marsh, Richmond’s first African-American mayor, and Doug Wilder, the nation’s first African-American governor.

Conversely, what started as a day of celebration and worship resulted in over a dozen deaths and numerous injuries during the infamous Court Street Baptist Church Panic in Lynchburg.

Leaders like Del. Jay Jones rely on faith for strength to forgive others and tackle uncomfortable history head on. Today, we’re inching closer to living out the First Amendment as our forefathers intended — striving to be wholly tolerant of all religions without persecution.

You may have read about African Americans’ faith journeys over the last 400 years in history books — now share your experience with us today.

In case you missed it, several of the nation’s most prestigious educators, faith and political leaders recently convened to discuss four centuries of African-American faith experiences in this country at the Faith Journeys In The Black Experience, 1619-2019 program at Virginia Union University’s Living and Learning Center

Suggested prompts

Tell us how your beliefs have shaped you into the person you are today.

Tell us about how a faith leader positively impacted your community.

Helpful Tips

Video/Audio story

Use your smartphone to film or record a 2-3 minute video or audio recording answering one of the prompts listed above. Think of your story — outline the key points on paper, and rehearse telling it a couple of times before recording. Make sure you have good lighting and hold the phone about one foot away so your head and shoulders fill the frame.

Text story

Take 30-60 minutes to draft a 200-500 word text story answering one of the prompts listed above. Your story should take a narrative approach detailing your experiences and the emotions you felt along the way.



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