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Cover image for This far by faith : stories from the African-American religious experience
This far by faith : stories from the African-American religious experience
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, c2003.
Physical Description:
326 p. : illustrations.
General Note:
Includes index.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 200.89 WIL 1 1

On Order



This Far by Faith is the story of how religious faith inspired the greatest social movement in American history -- the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

America's struggle, rise, and triumph from slavery to equal rights for all is a living testament to the power of deep, personal faith for Americans of all colors. The black experience in America, even black music, is defined by a steady, burning religious faith and the power it offered to people who were viewed as powerless, even less than human, until the flame of faith showed them that they were equal members of God's family. That everlasting faith in God and trust in God's justice, as well as the power of prayer and its appeals to conscience, remains central to the concept of democracy and one nation under God that all Americans value.

Arriving on ships named Brotherhood and John the Baptist, slaves who had previously embraced tribal religions in their home countries faced the Christianity of their captors. Africans did not simply adopt the religion of the European colonists; they used the power, principles, and practices of Christianity to blaze a path to freedom and deliverance. In the process, the moral fabric of the nation was tested and took on a new texture and strength unique to America.

In the early to mid-twentieth century, black people used organized faith to meet, finance, and plan their struggle for freedom. The church was a living well of strength and comfort for black Americans; the one place where they maintained their public dignity. It was the black church that produced civil rights leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcolm X. And the white churches and synagogues provided key allies that were necessary to boost the Civil Rights movement to success.

Juan Williams, author of Eyes on the Prize, the landmark book on the history of the Civil Rights movement, and Quinton Dixie, a professor of religious studies and African American studies at Indiana University, bring to life the pivotal moments facing men and women of faith in this monumental history. The stories begin with ministers leading rebellions against slavery and towering men and women who used faith in God to rise above the brutality of being demeaned as slaves. Here are stories of politics, tent revivals, and the importance of black churches as touchstones for every step of the faith journey that became the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Using archival and contemporary photography, historical research, and modern-day interviews, and featuring messages from some of today's foremost clergymen and women, This Far by Faith is the first in-depth treatment of this social history and a companion to a major public television series.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Williams, who wrote the companion volume to the award-winning PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize, and Dixie, an Indiana University professor, offer a well-illustrated companion volume to the upcoming PBS series "This Far by Faith." They follow the traditional contours of other studies of African-American religious history, beginning with slavery and following the tale through the emergence of free black churches; the nadir of the late 19th century; the Great Migration; the rise of black nationalism and urban religious traditions in the early 20th century; the civil rights movement; and the embrace of alternative religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and the Five Percenters in the 1970s through the 1990s. One particularly interesting segment discusses those mid-20th century black Christian leaders who adopted conservative stances on integration; Williams and Dixie have done a great service by presenting these ministers' views alongside the more familiar stories of civil rights leaders, demonstrating the ideological diversity of the African-American church. At times, the book's writing style can be abrupt and jerky, switching from one historical figure to the next, or between different cities, without transitions to help the reader. The prose is also overburdened with romantic language about heroes who laid their all at the altar of sacrifice, etc.-a device that may work well over six separate installments of a television series, but quickly becomes redundant in print. The real strength here is not the writing but the 76 memorable photographs and illustrations, which powerfully attest to the courage and religious convictions of generations of African Americans. (Feb.) Forecast: In the 1980s, the companion volume to the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize sold more than 200,000 copies. This book should also enjoy strong sales, especially during and after June, when the six-part documentary will be broadcast on many of the nation's 349 PBS stations. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Religion has been and continues to be a sustaining force in the lives of African Americans. This enlightening book offers photographs, historical research, and contemporary analysis of the role of religion in fortifying African Americans from the days of slavery through harsh segregation and racial brutality and the civil rights and black power eras. Williams and Dixie trace the early influence of African religions on the Christianity adopted by slaves, later conflicts in the budding Baptist churches that aimed for a more polished religion, and adaptations of southern emotionality to the urban sensibilities of the North, showing the shifts and splinters in denominations and sects. They highlight well-known and lesser-known figures in the black church from Sojourner Truth to Henry McNeal Turner to Father Divine and Elijah Muhammad. The authors also cite a more current trend among blacks to embrace less-traditional faiths; these blacks, such as Buddhists, Five Percenters, and those listening to hip-hop gospel, continue a search that has persisted since Africans reached American soil for a faith that matches their spiritual and social experiences. --Vanessa Bush

Choice Review

Williams (NPR) and Dixie (Indiana Univ.) have collaborated on this learned, well-illustrated volume and "companion to a television series." Although it is unclear whether this type of book is best read before a television show, in anticipation; during the show, as reinforcement; afterwards, in commemoration; or independently, it is clear that its status as a companion volume has influenced its organization, resulting in 11 chapters that correspond to public television episodes. Relevant boxed material within the text, which sometimes exceeds a full page, does impede the narrative flow. Most of the subjects, with some exceptions, e.g., Sojourner Truth, are African American males, ranging from those who were slaves in British North America to those of the Nu Nation (musical) Project. Missing are significant authors such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. Mention is made of only three of the 75 outstanding females interviewed by Brian Lanker in I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America (1989). Williams and Dixie effectively chronicle African American religion, from its tribal and Islamic heritages through exposure in America to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim alternatives. Comparative use of worldwide African religious experiences would have enhanced these stories. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels. C. C. Smith emeritus, University of Wisconsin--River Falls

Library Journal Review

This companion to a six-part PBS special airing in February 2002 examines African American religious life. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



This Far by Faith Stories from the African American Religious Experience Chapter One "God Has a Hand in It" The God of Bethel heard her cries, He let his power be seen; He stopped the proud oppressor's frown, And proved himself a king. -- Richard Allen Charleston, South Carolina, today is a coastal city best known for its colonial past. The city is filled with exquisite homes built in the 1700s for wealthy plantation owners, shipbuilders, and importers. Tourists come to Charleston to see these grand houses, with their large, leafy gardens, elegant fountains, and porches with grand white pillars, which hint at the fabulous society life that once thrived here. All around the city are churches established before America was a nation. And at the center of the city is the Slave Market, which is now part museum and part crafts fair. But that slave market was the economic lifeblood of Charleston in the 1700s. It is the place where three-quarters of all slaves entering the United States first set their feet in America. In the late 1700s so many slaves were arriving that Charleston was a densely populated, mostly black city. Aristocratic whites were a small population who ruled over the black slaves, both on the enormous plantations toward the coast, which were the foundation of Charleston's economy, and in the heart of the city. Rice and cotton, the region's key cash crops, were labor-intensive and thus required a large number of field hands. So low country planters had been ignoring the 1808 United States ban on the international slave trade for years, and they continued to import Africans, whom they felt were familiar with rice cultivation or better suited for the backbreaking labor of cotton picking. From 1810 until 1900, South Carolina had a black majority, with its black population reaching nearly 60 percent on the eve of the Civil War. And in 1822, in the heart of this South Carolinian city, in a small home not far from the Slave Market that still exists, a group of thirty men huddled near the hearth, as one drew diagrams on the dirt floor, plotting a rebellion in urgent, hushed tones. The room was hot and stuffy, and it had the thick smell of too many people who had been crowded in the humid summer heat for too long, bringing the sweat of their day's labor with them. The fear was palpable. Eyes darted around the room, someone stood by the door, and a lookout outside kept a close watch for inquisitive whites. One of the men, the governor's most trusted servant, had already offered to kill the governor and his family as they slept. Someone else was coordinating the distribution of weapons in the days before the uprising. The two men closest to the light, their faces dancing with shadows, were the leaders of the rebellion. The man next to the fire was Denmark Vesey, a class leader at the nearby church and the most outspoken black man in the city. And standing just behind him was the most powerful religious leader in Charleston's rural slave plantations, Gullah Jack Pritchard. Vesey was over fifty-five: a life span longer than most blacks in South Carolina could expect. He was a tall, dark-skinned man with graying hair and missing teeth. His hands were leathery from a life of work as a carpenter. His strong physical presence, as well as his stature as a leader in Charleston's black church community, led many white people to label him a rabble-rouser who was best avoided. In fact, Vesey was known for refusing to yield the right-of-way to any white man as he walked on Charleston's narrow sidewalks. He even refrained from bowing to the white aristocracy. These small acts of defiance were just outward signs of Vesey's conviction that, regardless of his skin color, he was not to be treated as anything less than equal to any man in God's sight. Denmark Vesey had had to live by his wits from a young age; his faith in God and his mind were all he had to steady him in the face of oppression and abuse. At age fourteen, he was sold to a sugar plantation in Haiti where enslaved Africans were expected to chop cane from sunup to sundown. To avoid work, the boy spent the bulk of his time sprawled on the ground, claiming to be a victim of epileptic seizures. White doctors in the town confirmed the boy's illness, and when the captain of Vesey's slave ship returned to Haiti three months later, he refunded the plantation owner's money and took custody of this sick slave boy. The captain assigned Vesey to be his personal assistant. Perhaps it was Divine Providence, or perhaps it was the sea air that miraculously cured Vesey of his ailments, but Denmark Vesey never again displayed signs of epilepsy. The African Church was built after blacks withdrew from the biggest Methodist church in the city. In the early nineteenth century, African religions were an important thread in South Carolina's religious tapestry, particularly on the coast, the so-called low country. With new slaves arriving regularly, there was a constant source of renewal for these traditions. The relative isolation of rural plantations and the large slave populations enabled enslaved Africans to keep their own beliefs alive, and the potent spiritual powers that so many of them believed in stood as testaments to the resilience of African religious traditions. With so many religions available to them, blacks tended to borrow bits and pieces from various traditions, creating a religion unique to them. Even Christianity was a part of their fusion of faiths, and it was common for Charleston-area blacks in the 1820s to belong to one or more local faith communities. It was in 1794 that the first independent black Methodist church came into being ... This Far by Faith Stories from the African American Religious Experience . Copyright © by Juan Williams. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from This Far by Faith: Stories from the African American Religious Experience by Juan Williams, Quinton H. Dixie All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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