In quite another direction, that of religious fervor and faith, we may study characteristic attitudes and expressions of Negro mind as it reacts to the currents of the surrounding world. This is not a claim that the Negro has any monopoly upon the religious expression of mankind. Frequently, observers of Negro religious meetings have been led to regard the emotional expression lightly or humorously. Such people have seldom considered the serious meaning of these outbursts of religious enthusiasm in terms of social sanction, group control, and racial genius. Furthermore, through his emotional ecstasy the Negro's spirit has often been relieved from the deadening effects of toil and restricted liberty. Shut out from participation as a citizen in the full sense of the word in the general activities of the community and the nation, the Negro found in religious activity an avenue through which his personality has found relief and outlet.
This religious life has other aspects. The faith of the slave, especially during the later years of his bondage, that the God to whom he cried in moaning and longings that could not be uttered, would some day, somehow, bring liberty and opportunity to him and his children, gave him forbearance to endure. Buoyed up by their religious confidence, thousands of slaves remained at home and cared for the wives and children of many masters who were away fighting battles that decided the destiny of those slaves.1
In the years that followed, when thousands of the white men never returned, many of these same fervent "followers of the Lamb" voluntarily remained on the farm and the plantation to provide for the women and the children of the white families. In numerous cases this meant arduous toil and personal privation through a large part of a lifetime. This conduct was due not to weakness or cowardice, nor was it due to the uninformed inertia of ignorance, as the crowds that moved to Union Army posts and urban centers between 1865 and 1870 showed. But it was because of personal attachments to those whom they served, because of fidelity to family trusts often definitely committed to them by departing masters, and because of a deep religious sympathy for helpless children and bereaved women.
It may be asked how we can reconcile the numbers of mean, vicious, and criminal characters among Negroes with this opinion of religious capacity and innate goodness. That the savage instincts of some, as among other people, were never subdued is not peculiar. The slave pen and auction block, the deadened hope from denied reward of honest toil, the one-room cabin and the gun-barrel shanty of the towns and cities, devoid of sanitation and privacy, the dirty Negro neighborhood neglected by police, fire, and health authorities and preyed upon by the vicious and criminal classes of both races have left their wrecks in Negro life. Yet the soul of this people still vibrates with its pristine fervor of fellow-feeling, with its music and its poetry, with its loud outbursts of religious ecstasy, and with its free flow of unsolicited service, a devotion which love alone lavishes and which money cannot buy.
1 Coppin, Levi J., work cited, pp. 72-93.