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African American Contributions - Preserving Black History One Story at a Time
African American Contributions - Preserving Black History One Story at a Time
 

RELIGION ... REMINISCING ABOUT THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

Clarence SmithClarence Smith

I would say, way above anything else, [religion] has shown me a lot. I've learned a lot. I've seen that you give and you will constantly get back more than you give. You give more, you get back more. You put in your labor and you are dog-tired when you finish the job, but you then look at the job that you have accomplished and you're not that tired anymore. And, we have some good people. We have good people at Bethesda [United Methodist Church] and it's more like a family than a congregation, as far as I'm concerned. I mean, everybody knows everybody. We, at times, spend almost as much time out in the yard talking after service as we do during the service. It's just, people don't seem to want to go home. They just like to talk to each other, and I enjoy that. . . .

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Everlyn Louise Swales HollandEverlyn Louise Swales Holland (1932 -        )

I attend St. Aloysius's Church and I, say, I am of the Catholic faith. However, I have reservations about what happens in the Catholic church. It's just difficult. The ritualistic part is, as far as I'm concerned, okay. In my life, there has always been a barrier. What I believe in is something other than [what] people have control and guidance. What that is, who that is or how it is, I have a little bit of a problem formulating that, but I don't see any other religious organization offering any more, you know. None of that has altered what I believe. So, I attend the Catholic church.

God, if that's what you want to call it--God, Yaweh, Allah, Jesus: whatever name you want to apply to a Supreme Being, whatever. There has to be something. I don't think those of us who are here now, or even people who went before us, were capable of what is here. So as far as I'm concerned, there has to be some Supreme Being - someone, something other than us. Humans are, or in the form we exist here on this planet, we're just too incomplete. We aren't wise enough. We're not compassionate enough. We're aren't a lot of things enough to say that we are the end, or what we feel is the infinite. It just doesn't happen. So, there has to be some other.

Now, I'm not saying that it's all for good or it's all for bad or it's all evened out in the long run, however it comes out, but there is something other than humans who is, who guides what goes on. . . .

It was a segregated church. In fact, one of my aunt's bitterest memories is the fact that they tried to have Black alter boys when her son was growing up, and they wouldn't allow it. Took the robes that he wore. Took those off. The minister, I mean the parishioners would not receive-and that was during the time when they held a little plate under your mouth to give you communion. You went to the rail. The parishioners wouldn't accept communion from him. So, wouldn't accept him just to hold the plate. Wasn't communion. The priest gave communion, but just to hold the plate. No.

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Alonzo GaskinAlonzo Gaskin (1951 -        )

Growing up, we had a very involved church life. Not only with our church there, but with the other churches in what was called a parish at the time. There were five churches in our parish and we had one minister who serviced all five churches. And, we were very involved in what happened in the church life for all of those five parishes. That system doesn't exist anymore. . . .

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Elvare Smith Gaskin (1919 - 1998)

I now attend Zion United Methodist Church, and religion plays a major part of my life. . . . Without the Lord in my life, I don't know what would happen. I don't know what would have happened when I lost--when my husband died in '73 with a daughter still in college. Bernadette wanted to stop school and go to work, and I said, "No, because the Lord was going to--He would make a way for us." . . .

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Segregation in Church

Emma V. Milburn Hall (1927 -        )

And, every Sunday, we go to church. So, you could go one--no, five, four seats from the front, anywhere after that you could sit. And then, one Sunday, they had a rope. They had a little yellow rope come all the way across, and I didn't, you know, I didn't know. I said,--.
Bea, you know, she was saying, "No, Emma. Come back. Come back. Come back here."

I said, "Why? Why?"

"Come on. Come on. Come on. Come back. Sit back there."

So, we got out of church and she said, "No. That's for the White people."

I said, "What?"

She said, "Yeah."

I said, "Well, okay. Well," I said, "I don't have to go back there no more in that church. If that's for the White people, that's their church. Then, why you all going there? What don't you all go, whatyoucall'em?" I said, "I should have stayed Methodist." I said, "Because we had our own church."

She said, "No, but that don't make no difference." She said, "Just sit. Sit. Sit."

I said, "Okay."

And, I sat. And so, next, whatyoucall'em, Sunday, go back. Same thing--we sat and I just kept going.

So, my daughter, Glenda, Glenda, yeah. I guess she was about 12. Yeah, she was about 12 years old. So, we go to the church and she said, "Mamma." She said, "That's not fair. Why can't we sit in church anywhere we want to?"

I said, "Well, you know, they say you can't sit down."--same thing.

She said, "Umm."

So, we went on in church. She didn't come in right [away]--[I] turned around and looked for her. [chuckle] She sat up in the front seat!

And, whatyacall'em said, my sister-in-law said to me, she said, "Emma, that's something you would have done."

I said, "Yeah. I would have done that." I said, "I would have done that."

But I didn't want her--I didn't want her to see that I would, you know. She wouldn't [inaudible] anything.

I say, "I would have probably done that!"

That's something I would have done. And, she sat there and she sat there and they come in and got behind her.

She said, "Momma, you know what?"

I said, "What?"

"I wouldn't turn around 'cause I know you had your eye on my the whole time!" And, indeed I did! ...

Every Sunday she went. And then, her other sisters started sitting there. They went on. . . . I guess must have been in the 60's. Somebody moved that string. I don't know who took it down, but maybe the priest did.

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Elvare Smith Gaskin (1919 - 1998)

And, segregation was--it was really tough. It was. It was, and the fact that it went from the churches where it shouldn't have been. I went to a funeral at a Catholic church and my grandmother always-Well, we were made to, I guess, cause if I could have, I would have sat in the back, but she made us come up front. We could not turn around in church. You know, if the door opened, we focused on what was in front of us and what was going on in front of us. When they came to the-Well, I didn't have any better sense, I walked on up front in church and I sat down. And, they just kept looking at me. "Where is this animal come from? Where is she going? What is she doing there?" And, a nun, when we went to give the peace offering, I put out my hand, she would not take it. She was a nun. She would not take it. . . .

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James Alexander Forrest (1911 -  2009)James Alexander Forrest (1911 -  2009)

In our church we were forced to sit behind. You see that was frustrating. You look at that thing you say, "Look now here's an institution that's trying to follow Christian philosophy and you've got two sets of people in there - one Black and one White. Same church, same structure. But yet that one that's Black is not given the privilege to sit where he wants to. He's relegated to the back.

And if you analyze that and you say, "Look there's got to be something wrong here. If this is a Christian community, looking at Christian philosophy or Christian teaching, All Men are Created Equal, God-like, or whatever term you want to use, and yet in your house where you are the leader--. And you say, 'Look you're Black. You can't come up here. You sit in the back.' "

And when you think about that, think deep, you say--. You get upset. You get upset. But if you take a step back and say, "Well look. Let's work on this thing a little bit and see if we can't make some sense out of this thing that doesn't make any sense." And finally, it's worked out. But it wasn't easy. Wasn't easy. And you can take it from me, it wasn't easy. But here I am.

And you look at this thing as how asinine. Thirty years ago I couldn't sit in the front of the church. And thirty years later I'm a minister of that same church. I'm giving out sacraments to people in that same church. Analyze that and just look at it and put it up on a wall and look at it. And say, "How foolish it is."
So there's some of the changes. And they're good changes. But if you want your children or maybe if you want the world to see how foolish it was then put it up on a screen and just compare them.

See now thirty years ago that same man - ain't no change; his skin's the same color, he's the same weight, looks the same--. They had to sit in the back and now he's up on the altar with the minister of that church giving out Holly Communion or officiating in the activities.

I'm not going to keep on talking about it. But I do think about it. I don't get frustrated anymore. But I do think about it. And I don't talk to these children too much about it because young people--they're not seasoned enough to take all these things and they retaliate. Which sometimes isn't the right thing to do. I kind of (chuckles) put a little frosting on the cake before I give it to them. I don't give them all the stuff that we've gone through so that they have the privilege of being accepted. Because that's what it is. Being accepted in these different phases of life.

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Click here to purchase "In Relentless Pursuit of an Education: African American Stories from a Csentury of Secregation (1865 - 1967)Although St. Mary's County is only 60 miles south of Washington D. C. it has been a forgotten isolated peninsula for most of its 400 years of history since the first European settlers arrived. Countians have dealt with their isolation in traditional as well as innovative ways. During the timeframe discussed in our oral histories (1865 - present), local African Americans not only had to surmount the challenges of rural poverty and the effects of Jim Crow, but also had to overcome the difficulties arising from a lack of infrastructure that is typical of Maryland's tidewater counties.

Through the stories of African Americans in Southern Maryland, we can learn about the important contributions people have made to build this vibrant community. With this knowledge and understanding of the subculture, we then can better locate ourselves in the present and plan for our futures.

Mary Somerville - Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions  

Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions PO Box 1457 Lexington Park, MD 20653 info@AfricanAmericanContributions.com

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