Baptists and the American Civil War: June 10, 1865

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi Map 1861Black residents of Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana first learn of their freedom this day when Federal soldiers march into town with good news. The soldiers, tasked with helping with Reconstruction in the state through the Freedmen’s Bureau, remain in Shreveport for ten years.The Bureau assists former slaves in securing jobs with fair pay and obtaining medical care, as well as establishing schools for black children.

Within a decade after the Federal soldiers depart, the white citizens of Shreveport are waging a war of terror upon black citizens. A racial caste system returns, lynching becomes commonplace in “Bloddy Caddo,” and blacks are prohibited from voting.

Today, however, is a day of rejoicing among many freedmen throughout the South, Louisiana and elsewhere.

In the Van Wert Baptist Church of Paulding County, Georgia, newly-empowered black members, still tethered to the white-led congregation for now, seek to exercise their freedoms.

Church minutes record of this day: “Our Pastor being absent, Brother Heaton was called to the chair. Application was made for a license granted Moses, a colored member, permission to exercise his gift in public, which was granted. John A. Rentz, Church Clerk”

Within months, Moses departs from the church. In granting him a letter of dismissal and despite the amiable parting, white members continue thinking of Moses in a dehumanizing manner.

Church records of September 9 note: “After the opening of conference as usual, a Letter of Dismission was granted to Moses, the property formerly of T. Jones, and with the liberty to exercise in public”

Negotiations between black and white Baptists of the South characterize the remainder of this year. White Baptists routinely refer to black members by first name only and as formerly “property of.” Black members, feeling out their new-found freedom, steadily forge their way toward a future of religious autonomy and self-determination.

Sources: “City of Shreveport,” Caddo History (link); “Historical Background of the Flag in Caddo” (link); Elsa Barkley Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” pp. 111-114 (link); Minutes, Van Wert Baptist Church, 1860-1870 (link); see also Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011 (link)