Cover image for Bound for the promised land : African American religion and the great migration
Bound for the promised land : African American religion and the great migration
Sernett, Milton C., 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Durham : Duke University Press, 1997.
Physical Description:
x, 345 pages ; 25 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BR563.N4 S474 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Bound for the Promised Land is the first extensive examination of the impact on the American religious landscape of the Great Migration--the movement from South to North and from country to city by hundreds of thousands of African Americans following World War I. In focusing on this phenomenon's religious and cultural implications, Milton C. Sernett breaks with traditional patterns of historiography that analyze the migration in terms of socioeconomic considerations.
Drawing on a range of sources--interviews, government documents, church periodicals, books, pamphlets, and articles--Sernett shows how the mass migration created an institutional crisis for black religious leaders. He describes the creative tensions that resulted when the southern migrants who saw their exodus as the Second Emancipation brought their religious beliefs and practices into northern cities such as Chicago, and traces the resulting emergence of the belief that black churches ought to be more than places for "praying and preaching." Explaining how this social gospel perspective came to dominate many of the classic studies of African American religion, Bound for the Promised Land sheds new light on various components of the development of black religion, including philanthropic endeavors to "modernize" the southern black rural church. In providing a balanced and holistic understanding of black religion in post-World War I America, Bound for the Promised Land serves to reveal the challenges presently confronting this vital component of America's religious mosaic.

Author Notes

Milton C. Sernett is Professor of African American studies at Syracuse University. He is the author of African-American Religious History: A Documentary Witnes s, also published by Duke University Press.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This excellent and much-needed historical study of African American religion during the great migration of African Americans from the rural southern black belt counties to northern urban cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York draws on the census data on religion, church records, and studies by social scientists. Sernett has created a highly readable and informative portrait of the tensions and debates among northern black clergy and intellectuals such as the Rev. Richard Wright, Jr. and W.E.B. DuBois about how to respond to this tidal wave of migrants. He uses the typology of "traditionalists" (clergy and churches supporting a traditional and otherworldly approach to the problems raised by the migrating rural peasantry) and "instrumentalists" (those calling for outreach and social service programs in northern churches). Sernett's historical treatment focuses mostly on the responses of the black Methodists, largely the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and black Baptists, the National Baptist Convention. As he correctly acknowledges, a history of the Holiness and Pentecostal church movement, the so-called "Sanctified Church," during the urban migrations is largely missing. However, he does provide historical summaries of the development of storefront churches, and he has a fine chapter on what happened to the rural churches in the South. Helpful appendix summarizing the data for black denominations from the US Census of Religious Bodies from 1906 to 1936; extensive bibliography. Recommended for specialists in the field, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates. L. H. Mamiya; Vassar College