well-established churches in Philadelphia, New York and Boston to found new branches in other north-eastern cities such as Providence, Pittsburgh, Trenton, New Bedford, Buffalo and, as the nation spread westward, Detroit, Chicago, St Louis, Cincinnati and San Francisco. In 1815 there were some 40,000 black Methodists and about the same number of black Baptists. By 1850 those numbers had grown to 87,000 Methodists and 150,000 Baptists. In many northern and western cities and towns, the black church was the centre of African-American life. Independent churches gave black worshippers more than simply the opportunity to escape harassment and discrimination by whites - they provided spiritual sanctuary in a sympathetic setting and the opportunity for black self-determination in church affairs. Congregations served as extended kinship networks, much as African 'secret societies' had done. Religious leaders held powerful clout within the black community, and churches functioned as informal 'courts' where disciplinary problems in the community could be adjudicated. Civic meetings of all kinds were often held in churches, which also sponsored mutual aid and benevolent societies and - since education was considered fundamental to racial improvement - a variety of schools. All these functions were grounded in the reality that black theology formed the ideological crucible of struggle and redemption for African Americans who considered themselves in a kind of internal exile in a hostile country.12
Not surprisingly, the churches were centres of abolitionism as well as the broader African-American freedom movement. In response to attacks on blacks in Cincinnati, an organisation called the American Society of Free Persons of Colour convened at Mother Bethel Church in Philadelphia in 1830, electing an aged Richard Allen president. The group met annually until 1835, passing resolutions on civil rights, black self-defence, emigration to Canada and opposition to African colonisation. In subsequent years black churches contributed countless leaders and foot soldiers in the antislavery struggle. Dozens of black ministers such as Samuel Cornish, Henry Highland Garnet and Charles Ray became powerful spokesmen in the movement. Speakers such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Charles Remond and William Lloyd Garrison regularly travelled the abolitionist circuit addressing audiences at hundreds of churches. Black churches voiced increasingly militant opposition to legislation such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and to the Supreme Court's decision in the Dred Scott case of 1857. They were at the heart of the informal network of 'vigilance committees' for community self-defence, and of the underground railroad aiding fugitive slaves. The most famous
12 Horton and Horton, In hope ofliberty, pp. 129-51.
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