Singing Through Struggle: Music as a Mode of Cultural Exchange in African American Border City Churches After Emancipation, 1862-1890
Brown, Carolynne H.
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This project investigates how religious music, invested with symbolic and cultural meaning, provided African Americans in border city churches with a way to negotiate conflict, assert individual values, and establish a collective identity in the post- emancipation era. In order to focus on the encounter between former slaves and free Blacks, the dissertation examines black churches that received large numbers of southern migrants during and after the Civil War. Primarily a work of history, the study also employs insights and conceptual frameworks from other disciplines including anthropology and ritual studies, African American studies, aesthetic theory, and musicology. It is a work of historical reconstruction in the tradition of scholarship that some have called "lived religion." Chapter 1 introduces the dissertation topic and explains how it contributes to scholarship. Chapter 2 examines social and religious conditions African Americans faced in Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA, and Washington, DC to show why the Black Church played a key role in African Americans' adjustment to post-emancipation life. Chapter 3 compares religious slave music and free black church music to identify differences and continuities between them, as well as their functions in religious settings. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 present case studies on Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Baltimore), Zoar Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia), and St. Luke’s Protestant Episcopal Church (Washington, DC), respectively. Informed by fresh archival materials, the dissertation shows how each congregation used its musical life to uphold values like education and community, to come to terms with a shared experience, and to confront or avert authority when cultural priorities were threatened. By arguing over musical choices or performance practices, or agreeing on mutually appealing musical forms like the gospel songs of the Sunday school movement, African Americans forged lively faith communities and distinctive cultures in otherwise adverse environments. The study concludes that religious music was a crucial form of African American discourse and expression in the post-emancipation era. In the Black Church, it nurtured an atmosphere of exchange, gave structure and voice to conflict, helped create a public sphere, and upheld the values of black people.