In the slave quarters, African Americans organized their own “invisible institution.” Through signals, passwords, and messages not discernible to whites, they called believers to “hush harbors” where they freely mixed African rhythms, singing, and beliefs with evangelical Christianity. It was here that the spirituals, with their double meanings of religious salvation and freedom from slavery, developed and flourished; and here, too, that black preachers, those who believed that God had called them to speak his Word, polished their “chanted sermons,” or rhythmic, intoned style of extemporaneous preaching. Part church, part psychological refuge, and part organizing point for occasional acts of outright rebellion (Nat Turner, whose armed insurrection in Virginia in 1831 resulted in the deaths of scores of white men, women, and children, was a self-styled Baptist preacher), these meetings provided one of the few ways for enslaved African Americans to express and enact their hopes for a better future.
|Religion grew to become a highly respected part of slave life. It offered the enslaved hope and reassurance. Slaves were forced to organize and conduct these meetings in secret because the idea of slaves assembling without supervision left the owners in fear. The meetings were held after dark, the once field and house chores were completed, and carried on late into the night.
Christianity was the prominent religion forced on the African Slaves after being transported to the Americas. After being exposed to Christian ideas, the slaves began to understand them more. Slaves discovered promising stories and passages in the Bible that offered hope. The story of Jesus Christ suffering on the cross drew attention because of the similar, harsh treatment they both received.
The hush harbors served as the location where slaves could combine their African religious traditions with Christianity. It was safe to freely blend the components of each religion in these meetings. The slaves could let go of all their hardships and express their emotions. Here is where Negro Spirituals originated. The songs created by slaves were known to contain a double meaning, revealing the ideas of religious salvation and freedom from slavery. The meetings would also include practices such as dance. African shouts and rhythms were also included.
Slaves would suffer severe punishments had they been caught in a hush harbor meeting. The most common punishment would be a whipping. African American churches taught that all people were equal in God’s eyes and viewed the doctrine of obedience to one’s master taught in white churches as hypocritical. Instead the African American church focused on the message of equality and hopes for a better future.