Cover image for Mighty like a river : the black church and social reform
Mighty like a river : the black church and social reform
Billingsley, Andrew.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 262 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1310 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BR563.N4 B534 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
BR563.N4 B534 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BR563.N4 B534 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



Throughout the history of the African American people there has been no stronger resource for overcoming adversity than the black church. From its role in leading a group of free Blacks to form a colony in Sierra Leone in the 1790s to helping ex-slaves after the Civil War, and from playingmajor roles in the Civil Rights Movement to offering community outreach programs in American cities today, black churches have been the focal point of social change in their communities. Based on extensive research over several years, Deep River is the first comprehensive account of how blackchurches have helped shape American society. An expert in African American culture, Andrew Billingsley surveys nearly a thousand black churches across the country, including its oldest, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. These black churchs, whose roots extend back to antebellum times, have periodically confrontedsocial, economic, and political problems facing the African American community. Deep River addresses such questions as: How widespread and effective is the community activity of black churches? What are the patterns of activities being undertaken today? How do activist churches confront suchproblems as family instability, youth development, AIDS and other health issues, and care for the elderly? With profiles of the remarkable black heroes and heroines who helped create the activist church, and a compelling agenda for expanding the black church's role in society at large, Deep River isan inspirational, visionary, and definitive account of the subject.

Author Notes

Andrew Billingsley, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Sociology, African American Studies, and the Institute for Families in Society at the University of South Carolina, is the author of six books of sociology, including Children of the Storm, Black Families in White America, and ClimbingJacob's Ladder: The Enduring Legacy of African American Families.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Billingsley draws on C. Eric Lincoln's dialectical model of the black church, especially its historic combination of communal and personal orientations, to organize his study. In the book's first part, Billingsley examines two black churches with antebellum roots, one in Savannah, Georgia, and the other in Richmond, Virginia. This most obviously sociohistorical section of the book traces the role of specific churches as ongoing communities of support and resistance to oppression, in which private salvation and communal practice have seldom been mutually exclusive. The second part explores specific congregations in other regions and examines global denominational differences. Billingsley describes three types of black churches: conservative, moderate, and activist. He is an engaged scholar who sees the black church in the future, as in the past, actively participating in the sociopolitical life of its community. The black church has been the cradle and the bedrock of some of the most important U.S. progressive movements, and Billingsley's accessible study provides scholarly support for the hope that it will continue to play that role. --Steven Schroeder

Library Journal Review

Billingsley (sociology/African American studies, Univ. of South Carolina) has written a short book on a mighty theme: the black church as a major influencing factor in the black community for promoting the general good and a driving force for equality and righteousness. It is amazing how much ground he covers. Part historical document, part sociological study, part journalistic reporting with numerous case studies, his book transcends time and place to present a narrative that is both compelling and fascinating. Billingsley begins with the many antebellum black churches and their periodic battles against the overwhelmingly powerful advocates of slavery, then carries this story to the modern-day black church and its nearly constant battles to secure political and economic rights for the black community. He then effortlessly ties together the tasks of both churches, showing how they are actually the same. The book reaches another level at the end as it calls for continued and relentless black church activism to tackle the enduring problems of modern American society. Recommended for all libraries.√ĄGlenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Previous Books by the Authorp. ii
Dedicationp. vii
Forewordp. xiii
Prefacep. xv
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Introductionp. xix
I Evolution Of The Black Church As Agent Of Social Reformp. 1
1 The Storm is Passing Over: The Black Church in Perspectivep. 3
2 If Tombstones Could Talk: The Evolution of the Black Church in Savannahp. 13
3 General Sherman and the Black Churchp. 22
4 The Crisis of Emancipation and Reconstruction in Savannahp. 35
5 Rev. Ralph Mark Gilbert and the Civil Rights Movement in Savannahp. 53
6 First African Baptist Church, Richmond: Seedbed of Social Reformp. 62
II The Contemporary Black Church Reaches Out To The Communityp. 85
7 New-Time Religionp. 87
8 The Black Church and the Male Youth Crisisp. 102
9 The Black Church Confronts the Hiv/Aids Crisisp. 110
10 A Tale of Two Cities: Black Churches in Denver and Atlantap. 119
11 Often Seen, Seldom Called: The Legacy of Jerena Leep. 132
12 Twelve Gates to the Cityp. 144
13 Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christianp. 170
14 One More River to Cross: The Black Church Faces the Futurep. 184
Appendix A Project Advisory Committee Membersp. 195
Appendix B Studying Contemporary Black Churchesp. 198
Appendix C Tablesp. 207
Notesp. 227
Referencesp. 245
Indexp. 251