Brought into the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the states of the Deep South, which include Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas have had their struggles with slavery, war and poverty. Left here are the remnants of language and beliefs from the French and from the slave trade. The faith of the locals have evolved into a mixture of Catholicism, Conservative Anabaptist doctrine, and a sprinkling of the religious practices of Africa.
*Because the area had been occupied by the French – who were mostly Catholic – most of the local people that had stayed on after the Louisiana Purchase remained Catholic.
*Initially, the first American settlers to the new territory were colonists looking to take advantage of the agricultural opportunities of the Deep South. They started planting crops such as cotton, sugar, rice, tobacco, indigo and watermelon.
*These large plantation crops created the need for slave labor and served to be a key issue of dissension between the states.
*Slaves were usually West Africans acquired largely by East Africans, Egyptians and Ethiopians as spoils of war and sold off.
*Many of the initial settlers were Catholic, as the Southern colonies had been much more tolerant than the Puritans of the Northern colonies, and many took safe haven in the South.
THE ANABAPTISTS & THE 2ND GREAT AWAKENING:
*76% of people residing in the Deep South are Christian, with the majority belonging to the Baptist denomination.
*The 2nd Great Awakening (1800-1830) was largely responsible for the Protestant Reformation in the Deep South. Results from this event have been:
-Establishment of reform movements that sought to alleviate sufferings including the Temperance, Suffrage and Abolitionist movements, as well as inspiring prison reform and help for the mentally ill.
-Protestant Evangelicals including the Methodists, Mennonites, Baptists and Presbyterians became the fastest growing denominations in the Nation.
-Greater public roles for women.
-Larger groups of African-Americans than ever before joining the Christian faith.
-Christians taking a more serious role in public policies.
-Christians were called into a life of Holiness.
*Large revivals and traveling camp meetings drew in multitudes of people to hear the preaching of the leaders of the movement such as Charles Finney, Lyman Beecher, Lorenzo Dow, Barton Stone, Frances Asbury, James McGready, and Peter Cartwright.
*Large numbers of Christians began to worship freely and with more expressed emotion. They choose their place of church membership, and elected to be baptized as a profession of faith.
*The Deep South has been nicknamed, “The Bible Belt”.
THE WEST AFRICAN INFLUENCE:
The religious beliefs of the slaves – brought in mostly from West Africa- is a complex mixture of Islam, Christianity and the Voodoo traditions. This was tolerated by the Catholic Church in Africa.
*The original religion in West Africa was Vodun (or Voodoo). The Vodun that is practiced in Haiti and the Caribbean is a combination of African, Catholic, and Native American beliefs. Vodun is practiced differently in different parts of the world.
*Original Vodun (or Voodoo) basic beliefs and practices:
-There is no scripture or world authority, and focuses on individual experience.
-The Visible and Invisible worlds are intertwined.
-Death is only a transition into the Invisible world, so our ancestors are still with us and look over us.
-There are Lwa which are gods with human personalities that can reside locally (ie… Marie Laveau in New Orleans).
-There are ordained clergy (priests & priestesses), that offer guidance, but Vodun teaches that each person is responsible for their own actions.
–The Lwa have become likened to Catholic Saints and Hindu Deities and function similarly.
*Vodun is often confused with Hoodoo which is a West African form of folk magic used to conjure spiritual power.
*Christianity arrived in Africa in the early 2nd century as a missionary endeavor.
*313 A.D.: The Emperor Constantine signed the edict of Milan and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, which made the spread and acceptance of Christianity fast and easy.
*Currently, about 80% of Africa’s population is Christian.
*Africa was the first continent into which Islam spread from its roots in Southwest Asia, early in the 7th century. This migration happened as a result of persecution from the polytheistic (multi-god) inhabitants of Mecca.
*Currently, nearly 1/3rd of the world’s Muslim population lives on the African continent, and about 20% of the current population of Africa are Muslim.
*Islam in Africa has always been, and still is constantly being reshaped and influenced by traditional local beliefs and has developed doctrines and practices unique to the African Muslim.
*The religion practiced by the majority of the slaves brought in from the slave trade were largely Christian, but with influences of Islam and Voodoo.
*Some slaves also practiced the traditional Hoodoo folk magic, and although many were forced by their masters to become Christian, kept to their rituals.
*Currently, the bulk of the Vodun and Hoodoo practitioners in the U.S. are found in Louisiana – primarily in New Orleans.
*Between the end of the Civil War and the Civil rights movement, most Christians in the Deep South had become Protestant. However, Black churches and white churches were segregated.
*The revivals during the 2nd Great Awakening affected the Black and Hispanic populations as much as the white, and the Southern Baptist Church flourished in all races.
*A less educated and deeply poor rural south found fundamentalism from the Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and older Baptists, greatly appealing.
*Currently nearly ½ of all residents of the Deep South attend church regularly as compared to the rest of the country, which is at about 23%. (Utah is the exception at 47%). Of the church goers in the South, about 2/3rds are Protestant.
What a unique and diverse culture you’ll find in the Deep South! Realize, too, that the faith of an area greatly influences its politics, policies, laws, and cultural norms. The Deep South is truly a world all its own!