Needing the votes of African Americans, Republicans brokered with the AME clergy who made political activism a priority.
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The church helped steamroll important education legislation and other programs for freedmen but the influence came at a price as jealousy and factionalism soon opened deep fissures among the denomination's leaders. By the s, the church chose to put its weight behind the moral crusade of temperance rather than politics. Also contributing to this change of focus was the return to white Democratic rule as well as disenchantment with the corruption of state government. The authors also touchupon the important issue of class in the AME experience.
As William E.
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Montgomery argued in Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree , tensions between the rational theology of northern ministers and the emotionalism of southern freed men and women divided the denomination. Yet in Florida it was a southern-born bishop, Daniel A.
Payne, as well as a burgeoning middle class who alienated their brethren by insisting "to bring order, symmetry, and quiet respectability to the church" Instead of a rift between northerners and southerners, the fault lines in Florida ran between town and country. Whereas congregations in Tallahassee and Jacksonville built impressive temples, the rural churches resembled frontier-meeting houses.
Furthermore, the cost of the episcopacy drew the ire of many African Methodists as the urban bishops earned the pejorative moniker, the "black princes" A paucity of sources constrained the authors' ability to ask big questions about the role of gender. Though Rivers and Brown skillfully employ newspapers and WPA questionnaires, their scant data inhibited such a portrait of the female laity.
As a result, they constructed their narrative around the principal male leaders of the church. Rivers is a historian whose particular focus is the black history of Florida. Rivers collaborated with Canter Brown, Jr. During this period, the AME Church was a critical part of the cultural, religious, and political lives of the black citizens of Florida.
The authors begin by providing an overview of the religion of slaves and the beginnings of African Methodism prior to and ends by describing the challenges faced by the church by Church leaders, including Robert Meacham and Charles H. Pearce, became involved in local politics and advocated for education and employment for blacks and poor whites. Others supported the temperance movement. Rivers and Brown draw on primary sources that include records and church newspapers in coming to their conclusions.
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During much of the Reconstruction period the AME Church was undergoing expansion throughout the Southern states and becoming involved with Reconstruction efforts in all of them. During its early years, the AMEZ Church became one of the first to ordain women to full clerical status.
Both ministers and laymen were involved with the Underground Railroad , and included members and supporters such as Frederick Douglass , Harriet Tubman , and Sojourner Truth. When Connecticut native Wilbur Garrison Strong arrived in Key West, Florida, in , he became the first black ordained minister on the peninsula.
He brought to Florida the traditions of northern Methodists, whose religion was based on joyful praise and preaching, and a simple form of gospel teaching that focused on "righteous living. Church ministers were leaders in several cities, and there were more urban and middle-class members than was usual for southern religious groups, which tended to be rural. It grew to be one of the largest black churches in Florida, but its growth was not without difficulty.
There were disputes between local ministers and Episcopal authorities, leadership issues, and political division when the church addressed social issues. Church coffers were depleted because of citrus crop failures, hurricanes, and yellow fever. The AMEZ decline was in progress by , when the governor of Florida ordered that all blacks be expelled and segregation on public transportation became law. It was the beginning of the era of discrimination and violence against blacks.