Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities, 1740-1877


The Anacostia Museum presented Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities, 1740-1877. Beginning with the religious revival known as the Great Awakening and concluding with the Reconstruction Era, the exhibition focuses on the period during which many blacks in America embraced the Christian religion. They, in turn, established churches and independent denominations that suited their spiritual, cultural, and social needs.

The story of the black church and its role in black communities is told chronologically, through original art works, record books, photographs, and objects such as pulpits, pews, and personal artifacts.

The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities, 1740-1877

For many years scholars tended to ignore the black church and the role that it has played in shaping black history and culture. Prior to the 1960s, only two major sociological studies were published on the subject—W. E. B. Du Bois' The Negro Church (1903), and Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph W. Nicholson's highly critical volume titled The Negro's Church ( 1933). The only major historical work to appear was Carter G. Woodson's The History of the Negro Church (1921). Although lacking sufficient documentation, Woodson's monumental book remains a standard reference source on the subject.

The relative lack of interest in the subject prior to the 1960s was due to: the minuscule number of blacks being trained in history and the social sciences; and as Woodson pointed out, to the failure of black denominations and churches to maintain adequate records for scholars.


Back to Past Exhibitions