The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song is a moving four-hour, two-part series from executive producer, host and writer Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., that traces the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America, all the way down to its bedrock role as the site of African American survival and grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power. The film is a production of McGee Media, Inkwell Media and WETA in association with Get Lifted.
Learn more about the history of Black churches in the Washington area below.
When Reverend Eli Nugent witnessed the silencing and segregation of fellow Black worshippers at a D.C. church, he decided that his community would be better off worshipping somewhere else. His efforts created one of the first and oldest Black churches in the city: Asbury United Methodist.
The history of school desegregation in the District is rooted in civil disobedience. The story is one of a grassroots organization of parents that challenged the institution of legalized segregation to guarantee better schools for their children. Throughout the seven-year struggle, the activists were supported by the District's Black churches, and their mission was grounded in the principles of faith and social justice.
For seventy years, St. Augustine Catholic Church, at 15th and L St., NW, was the place where Washington's Black Catholics were baptized, married, and laid to rest. Known as "The Mother Church" of Black Catholics, the property was sold to The Washington Post in 1946. The transaction caught many parishioners by surprise and caused a rift with the white leadership of the Archdiocese.
In the late 1800s, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church was a center for anti-lynching activism in Washington, D.C. Famed journalist Ida Wells-Barnett addressed the church on at least two occasions and, in 1894, Frederick Douglass delivered one of his last speeches from the Metropolitan A.M.E. pulpit. Entitled “The Lessons of the Hour” Douglass's address was an epic condemnation of lynching – from its pervasiveness, to its general acceptance amongst both Southern and Northern whites.
In 1993, then President-elect Bill Clinton’s choice of location for his inaugural morning prayer service was certainly a departure from precedent. For the first time in history, this time honored tradition took place at a historically Black church: Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal on M Street in downtown Washington. Church officials and clergy were pleased -- as Metropolitan administrator Roslyn Stewart Christian said: “He picked a neighborhood church … 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is right around the corner. He intends to be our president, our leader and our neighbor.”
East Arlington and Queen City were two tight-knit African American communities that forged a strong and independent existence despite the perils of Jim Crow. Yet the rapid expansion of federal government and the pressing demands of World War II endangered all that these Arlington residents had built together and, quite literally, wiped it off the map.