African-American Ministers Becoming Political Leaders
by Samuel Black
Many have debated the question as to why selected African-American ministers are normally political leaders in their respective communities. Traditionally, African-American ministers have been elected as leaders for various reasons. The most obvious is based on the fact that the church is the center of the community and the leadership of the community has traditionally come from the church as determined by the people in the community.
First and foremost, the African-American church was developed out of slavery in America. Christianity as a religion was the moving force which started the church. As a result, the people in slavery gained strength from the invisible church in the South, the visible one in the North, and the independent African Methodist Episcopal Church. Furthermore, the community was and still is the church, thus making African-American lives the center of the relationship impacting the church.
Secondly, the education of African descendants in America started in the church, which has resulted in the finding of jobs by the church. Additionally, politicians normally visited the community churches for support and in return have used a quid pro quo system to gain votes for political jobs and appointments.
Furthermore, the first major African-American businesses came out of the church, such as Ebony and Jet magazines by the subscriptions from the members. The mortician and funeral services were also supported by the church, including the African-American baseball league which played after Sunday services. Based on these activities, the ministers were in the forefront of community leadership, administration, and support of the people in the cities.
Next, the ministers have proven themselves by supporting the community and the community has always looked upon its ministers for leadership and support. Naturally, it is obvious that the African-American ministers were elected to represent the community over white politicians because they were most trusted by the town's people. They were dependable and could identify quite easily with the struggles of the community and the people with whom they lived.
Traditionally, ministers such as: Reverend Dr. Floyd Flakes, senior pastor of Allen A. M. E. Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, Queens, and President of Wilberforce University in Ohio, was elected as a congressman by his community. The Reverend Walter Edward Fauntroy, pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and a civil rights activist was also elected to the United States Congress by the African-American community. He was also a candidate for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination.
The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., civil rights activist and Baptist minister was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, and also served as shadow senator from the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997.
Additionally, the Reverend Andrew Young, politician, diplomat and pastor from Georgia served as Mayor of Atlanta, a Congressman from the 5th district and United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who served 14 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, also came from the African-American areas. Rev. William H. Gray III, Pennsylvania Congressman and former head of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) confided in the town's people. Last by not least, AME Church Bishop Henry McNeal Turner was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1868 by the African-American regions. These are just a few of the ministers who were elected as political leaders by their community.
Recently, many have become disillusioned with the role of the African-American church and ministers. The issue surrounds the ineffectiveness of the church since the end of the civil right era from the 1970s which some stated has diminished. Many young men of African-American descent have now turned to Islam as a religion instead of Christianity for support. They have found more trust and confidence in Islam as a religion from Africa, and have viewed Christianity as a religion for Eurocentric people, whom invaded Africa, depleted its resources, and destroyed its kingdoms and dynasties.
Notwithstanding the elected offices, many African-American ministers have also served in high profiled positions across America. For example, Reverend Alfred Charles "Al" Sharpton, Jr., Baptist minister, civil rights activist, and radio talk show host who ran in 2004 for the Democratic nomination for the U. S. presidential election. Sharpton was also licensed and ordained a Pentecostal minister by Bishop F. D. Washington at the age of nine or ten years old. Recently Reverend Sharpton has called upon the min isters across America to support him in his quest to obtain assistance for the African-American regional members who are suffering from HIV/AIDS, which he classified as an epidemic in the community, a cause that requires an immediate solution.
Obviously, the African-American communities have supported its ministers and vice versa. The church which was born out of slavery and protest is the largest institution of American-American life. The church trusted its ministers and placed them in positions of leadership with authority to advocate for their rights.
Additionally, the historical black colleges and universities (HBCU) were started out of slavery. The churches and ministers in positions of leadership advocated for the HBCU establishment. Those who were fortunate enough to attend colleges gave such credit to the African-American churches and the leadership of its ministers, other clergy, and general staff.
Taking a deeper look, the community trusted its ministers more than other business leaders. Religious leaders were more apt to get the nod for office when it was election time over a non-religious leader in the community. It was the African-American ministers the community saw on Sunday mornings, at funerals, holiday picnics, weddings, and other community leadership events. The ministers helped the community instead of selling to or selling out the community.
The trust grew deeper with the ministers for a variety of reasons. For example, the ministers and churches providing bread baskets, soup kitchens, jobs, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, baptisms and birthday parties which the people loved. Additionally, places of refuge, personal and professional counseling, general assistance, reference letters for employment, places to grieve from hurt, and the like were also provided. The ministers were available and responded positively to the community.
Whites were also more apt to support an African-American minister for public office over someone who was not a minister because of religious and trust reasons. They supported the minister because they identified with the virtues and morality of the position, and the person, as in relation to someone who was not in such a position of leadership and public trust.
Naturally, it is obvious as to why African-American ministers are elected as political leaders by their community. The church is the community and vice versa, which grew out of slavery and protest. The establishment of a trusting relationship has long been a strong bond in the community. Additionally, advocating for the rights of the people of the community has held the ministers in favor of their constituency. Furthermore, the sustainment of faith during slavery and the civil rights struggle placed the African-American ministers in the forefront for public office by the African-American people.