February is Black History Month, an appropriate time to focus on the Black Church in America. There have been competing views as to its role. Most scholars regard it as the major source of strength and endurance through centuries of repression, emerging after World War II as the principal leader in the modern struggle for civil rights. A few Black critics, however, have depicted the church, and Christianity generally, as an opium, deliberately manipulated by white society to keep African-Americans in bondage, during slavery and following emancipation.

In the early colonial period efforts to convert slaves were sporadic. By the end of the 18th century, most Blacks, both slave and free, had embraced Christianity. Black churches in the north exercised considerable independence, but religious activities of slaves in the south were subjected to severe restrictions to guard against unsupervised gatherings. In 1831, Nat Turner, a Baptist minister, had led a slave rebellion in Virginia..

The Baptists and Methodists were most vigorous and successful in enlisting African-Americans, and for generations those two traditions dominated among them. The largest denomination within the Black community today is still the National Baptist Convention, while Black Methodist bodies include three generally identified by their initials, the AME, AME Zion, and CME churches.
Over time, others groups have gained strength, among them various Pentecostal and Holiness groups. African-Americans affiliated with mainline Protestant congregations or with Catholicism usually are not viewed as part of the Black Church. The United Methodist Church, for example, has 2284 Black congregations.

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