"The darkies are having a special Easter service"
A rural African American church in South Carolina
Public DomainA rural African American church in South Carolina - Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Christianity spread to both free and enslaved Africans during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. The messages delivered by highly charismatic preachers spoke to people on a personal level and many aspects of the Bible, particularly the Exodus out of Egypt and the persecution of Christ, went to the heart of black experience. Though plantation areas held services overseen by a white minister which framed belief in white terms, the underground ‘invisible church’ allowed for the free expression of a specifically black identification and for the merging of Christian and traditional African patterns of worship. Services were much more charged and emotional than their white counterparts, incorporating gospel singing and rhythm and engendering a deep sense of communal experience. During the years of reconstruction, black Christians, keen to practice their faith without the impeding influence of white supervision, founded their own independent Methodist and Baptist church organizations. De jure and de facto segregation preserved the independence of black and white churches into the latter half of the 20th century.