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Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation

African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870

by Daniel L. Fountain

During the Civil War, traditional history tells us, Afro-Christianity proved a strong force for slaves' perseverance and hope of deliverance. In Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation, however, Daniel Fountain raises the possibility that Afro-Christianity played a less significant role within the antebellum slave community than most scholars currently assert. Bolstering his argument with a quantitative survey of religious behavior and WPA slave narratives, Fountain presents a new timeline for the African American conversion experience.

Both the survey and the narratives reveal that fewer than 40 percent of individuals who gave a datable conversion experience had become Christians prior to acquiring freedom. Fountain pairs the survey results with an in-depth examination of the obstacles within the slaves' religious landscape that made conversion more difficult if not altogether unlikely, including infrequent access to religious instruction, the inconsistent Christian message offered to slaves, and the slaves' evolving religious identity. Furthermore, he provides other possible explanations for beliefs that on the surface resembled Christianity but in fact adhered to traditional African religions.

Fountain maintains that only after emancipation and the fulfillment of the predicted Christian deliverance did African Americans more consistently turn to Christianity. Freedom, Fountain contends, brought most former slaves into the Christian faith. Provocative and enlightening, Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation redefines the role of Christianity within the slave community.

Daniel L. Fountain is an associate professor of history and director of the public history program at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Review quote for Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation

"Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation is an impressive volume that should be read by anyone interested in American slavery and religion in the antebellum South."

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