Monday, April 26, 2010

Laurie Maffly-Kipp's "Setting Down the Sacred Past"

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Setting Down the Sacred Past: African American Race Histories, and reported the following:
While I can’t say that p. 99 really gets to the heart of the matter of my book, it certainly gives you a small story that says a lot about African-American traditions of narration and commemoration. It relates the story of the centennial celebration of the founding of the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia that included the publication of a history of the church. Like other black Protestants, black Baptists used history to define their communities, to place themselves in larger narratives, and to counter Euro-American historical accounts that erased their presence. Black Baptists, though, also staked their claim in the competitive world of black denominationalism, and the stories that they told about themselves were very different from accounts by Methodists or other church groups. Describing these self-understandings breaks down the idea of a unitary “black church” to explore the ways that religious identity both reinforced and sometimes conflicted with racialized identities.

These church histories are only one piece of the larger study, though, which is concerned with the ways that African Americans narrated the past as a way of situating themselves and understanding their plight in the United States during the “long” nineteenth century (1780-1920). Men and women, southerners and northerners, clergy, shoemakers, and teachers fashioned their own narratives to counter white accusations that they had no history at all. They combined Protestant faith, American patriotism, and racial lineage to create new communities and to restore meaning and purpose in the face of enslavement and pervasive racism. This book describes the power of historical consciousness and the rich imaginations of ordinary men and women to refashion their worlds out of new intellectual tools and shards of memory.
Read about Laurie Maffly-Kipp's research and teaching, and learn more about Setting Down the Sacred Past at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue