Available both as a book and as a PBS Documentary, THE BLACK CHURCH by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the central role that the church played and plays in the lives of African American people. Here is the available introduction (read an excerpt) of his work:
No pillar of the African American community has been more central to its history, identity, and social justice vision than the “Black Church.”* To be sure, there is no single Black Church, just as there is no single Black religion, but the traditions and faiths that fall under the umbrella of African American religion, particularly Christianity, constitute two stories: one of a people defining themselves in the presence of a higher power and the other of their journey for freedom and equality in a land where power itself—and even humanity—for so long was (and still is) denied them. Collectively, these churches make up the old‑ est institution created and controlled by African Americans, and they are more than simply places of worship. In the centuries since its birth in the time of slavery, the Black Church has stood as the foundation of Black religious, political, economic, and social life.
For a people systematically brutalized and debased by the in‑ humane system of human slavery, followed by a century of Jim Crow racism, the church provided a refuge: a place of racial and
* Although there is no monolithic “Black Church,” just as there is no monolithic “Black vote” or “Black perspective,” for clarity throughout this book,