In the 1830s, American abolitionists, led by Evangelical Protestants, gained momentum in their battle to end slavery. Abolitionists believed that slavery was a national sin, and that it was the moral obligation of every American to help eradicate it from the American landscape by gradually freeing the slaves and returning them to Africa. Not all Americans agreed. Views on slavery varied state by state, and among family members and neighbors. Many Americans—Northerners and Southerners alike—did not support abolitionist goals, believing that anti-slavery activism created economic instability and threatened the racial social order.
Please read some of the history making events made possible by the Protestant movement in the United States and the world:
1700: An early stand against slavery: Congregationalists are among the first Americans to take a stand against slavery. The Rev. Samuel Sewall writes the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America, “The Selling of Joseph.” Sewall lays the foundation for the abolitionist movement that comes more than a century later.
1773: 1st Published African-American Poet: A member of Old South in Boston, Phillis Wheatley becomes the first published African-American author. “Poems on Various Subjects” is a sensation, and Wheatley gains her freedom from slavery soon after. Modern African-American poet Alice Walker says of her: “[She] kept alive, in so many of our ancestors, the notion of song.”
1785: first ordained African-American Pastor Lemuel Haynes is the first African- American ordained by a Protestant denomination. He becomes a world- renowned preacher and writer.
1839: defining moment for abolitionist movement Enslaved Africans break their chains and seize control of the schooner Amistad. Sengbe Pieh and the other Mende captives are arrested and held in a Connecticut jail while the ship’s owners sue to have them returned as property. Congregationalists and other Christians organize a campaign to free the captives. The Supreme Court rules the captives are not property, and the Africans regain their freedom.
1846: First integrated anti-slavery society. The Amistad case is a spur to the conscience of Congregationalists who believe no human being should be a slave. In 1846 Lewis Tappan, one of the Amistad organizers, organizes the American Missionary Association—the first anti-slavery society in the U.S. with multiracial leadership.
1862-77: Colleges and Universities for blacks in the South. The American Missionary Association starts six colleges: Dillard University, Fisk University, LeMoyne-Owen College, Huston-Tillotson College, Talladega College and Tougaloo College, all historically black colleges and universities that continue to offer excellence, access, and opportunity in higher education. It also founds Brick School, today part of the UCC’s Franklinton Center in North Carolina.
1959: Historic Ruling that airwaves are public property: Southern television stations impose a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King Jr. asks the UCC to intervene. Everett Parker of the UCC’s Office of Communication organizes churches and wins in Federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property. The decision leads to hiring of persons of color in television studios and newsrooms.
1973: Civil rights activists freed The Wilmington Ten — 10 civil rights activists — are charged with the arson of a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington, N.C. One of them is Benjamin Chavis, a social justice worker sent by the UCC to Wilmington to help the African-American
community overcome racial intolerance and intimidation. The UCC’s General Synod raises bail. Chavis’ conviction is overturned and he is released after spending four-and-a-half years in prison.
1974: Yvonne Virginia Delk: First African American woman to be ordained in the United Church of Christ.
1976: First African- American leader of an integrated denomination. General Synod elects the Rev. Joseph H. Evans president of the United Church of Christ. He becomes the first African – American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in the United States.