Black Churches in America
Courtesy of Valentine Richmond History Center, Virginia
The ritual of baptism is an important sacrament in all Christian churches, and plays a particularly vital role for the many Protestant groups that have for centuries ministered to the African American community. The spiritual cleansing offered by baptism appealed strongly both to slaves seeking rebirth and salvation from a life of misery and toil, and to free people looking for change and spiritual meaning in their lives. The Baptist church continues to place full-immersion baptism at the heart of its teachings, while many evangelical churches base their philosophy around Jesus' words in Jn 3:4: "Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God." This photograph from c. 1900–1925 shows an annual baptism in the James River, presided over by Bishop "Daddy" Grace.