From Biracial to Segregated Churches: Black and
White Protestants in Houston, Texas, 184o-1870
CHARLES A. ISRAEL*
IN THE YEARS FOLLOWING THE CIVIL WAR, SOUTHERNERS WEATHERED
immense changes in their politics, economy, and society, with perhaps
the most momentous transitions centering around the transformation of
four million slaves into freedpeople. The remainder of the nineteenth
century witnessed a growing separation of southern whites and blacks
into racially segregated worlds that remained isolated throughout the
first two-thirds of the twentieth century. In his book of lectures on The
Strange Career of Jim Crow, C. Vann Woodward noted that "One of the
most momentous of racial separations was the voluntary withdrawal of
the Negroes from the white-dominated Protestant churches, often over
white protest, in order to establish and control their own separate reli-
gious institutions." Since Woodward's statement in 1955, several histori-
ans have attempted to uncover the period of flux in the transition from
biracial antebellum churches to the conditions that predominated by
the end of the nineteenth century and throughout most of the twentieth
century-churches in which "eleven o'clock on Sunday is the most seg-
regated hour of the week."'
To argue that this segregation of the churches was a significant result
of the Reconstruction-era social and political upheaval in many parts of
the South first requires the explanation that throughout much of the
antebellum South, blacks and whites worshiped together in the same
church and at the same time. As one former Texas slave recalled:
"During slavery time . . . the white and cullud all went to church togeth-
er too. Niggers and white shouted alike." In influential works on slave
* Charles A. Israel is a Ph.D. student in history at Rice University.
' C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of fJm Crow, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1966), 22; Robert L. Hall, "Black and White Christians in Florida, 1822-1861" in John B.
Boles (ed.), Masters and Slaves in the House of the Lord: Race and Religion in the American South,
1740-1870 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988), 81. On Woodward's account of
post-Civil War church segregation, see Kenneth K. Bailey, "The Post-Civil War Racial
Separations in Southern Protestantism: Another Look," Church History, 46 (Dec., 1972), 454.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/. Accessed October 10, 2015.