Baptists and the American Civil War: July 9, 1865

Kentucky Tennessee MapIn the fall months of 1864 many newly-freed blacks from the Border State of Kentucky enrolled in the Union Army. Also in late 1864, more and more emancipated black Baptists, no longer forced by their masters to attend white churches, began meeting autonomously.

The ensuing months have witnessed a continued exodus of black Baptists from white churches, a situation with which many white Baptist churches struggle.

The South Benson Baptist Church of Franklin County is one example of a church grappling with the new realities of emancipation.

In November 1864 white members noted, “As a church we lament that our Colored Brethren do not meet with us as they did in days past.” They voted to “take some steps to bring back these our brethren to their place in the church of God.” Blacks, after all, were supposed to be under the spiritual authority of whites.

For some “unknown cause,” white members later lament, black members are no longer in attendance. Seemingly not admitted and unvoiced is that free blacks naturally wish to worship freely.

This month the white members of South Benson Baptist Church finally exclude, for “non-attendance + indifference towards the church,” black members who have left and not returned.

South Benson provides one example of what is happening in hundreds of white-led churches throughout the South. White Baptist would prefer that free blacks remain under their congregational authority, but their hopes are in vain.

Source: Luke E. Harlow, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 212 (link)