Book explores history of U.S. blacks, their influence on religion

The Tennessean, June 21, 2003
By BRIAN LEWIS, Staff Writer

Denmark Vesey was a religious man. So was George Wilson.

Vesey led in the planning of an ambitious slave insurrection in 1822 in Charleston, S.C. When Wilson, a fellow African, learned of the plot, he was disturbed because the intended murders of so many didn’t square with his Christian faith. He became a spy for the white authorities, and Vesey’s plans were foiled.

Vesey and more than 30 others were executed. Wilson’s espionage earned him freedom from slavery and a $50 annuity. But his act of betrayal drove him insane, and he took his own life.

This is the first story in Nation of Islam but also related sects such as the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Nation of Gods and Earths, a splinter group also known as the Five Percent Nation of Islam or Five Percenters.

The book talks about the formation of such prominent denominations as the Nashville-based National Baptist Convention, the largest black religious body, and the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal denomination.

For many black Christians, the development of these organizations was bittersweet. They provided leadership opportunities for blacks, and they also displayed the fragmentation of Christians and the evidence of racism in the church.

The book also has a couple of stories connected to Nashville, commenting, for example, on figures such as R.H. Boyd, prominent businessman and Baptist, and James Lawson, who was involved in the Civil Rights movement here and was an adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

About the book

This Far by Faith: Stories from the African American Religious Experience by Juan Williams and Quinton Dixie (William Morrow, $29.95)

‘This Far by Faith’ documentary to air next week

A six-hour documentary, This Far by Faith: African American Spiritual Journeys, will be shown on PBS 8-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday on Nashville’s Channel 8. ”It’s a really nice cross-cultural study,” said Louis Talley, a spokesman for the local affiliate. ”It’s really well done. It’s almost reminiscent of a Ken Burns documentary that really goes into nice depth on its subject.”

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