Who’s Really Running Things: African American Women in the Church

Black church women leadership
As a young girl it bothered me a great deal to listen to my minster preach about the justice that Jesus had reclaimed for African Americans when he died on the cross, but only speak of the heroism of the men featured in the Bible and of the Black men who had courageously fought for our civil liberties. Sitting in church surrounded by a multitude of women who I knew had long ties to the community, who volunteered countless hours at the church, who prepared food and clothing for those in need, acted as secret confidants/counselors to both men and women, and who prayed daily for God’s wisdom, grace and mercy over their lives—I wondered how this “Man of God” could so easily forget them.

Were there not Black women that Jesus had also liberated and who had also struggled alongside men in the progress for Black equality? Why were they not included among the many men who were considered to be heroes in our Black community?

These bold, confident, dignified, praying women—God’s chosen one’s, were all around us. How could they be so easily erased? So easily overlooked and devalued?

Although, I was quite young at the time I knew there was a problem with the refusal to acknowledge Black women’s tireless leadership in the church. While the vast number of these women who over time have helped to support the building of their communities has not been recorded in history, it does not justify making their presence invisible “for the greater good” (read for Black men).

Black church women have played an equal part in the shaping of our socio-political and spiritual culture (if not more). These women understood the importance of their presence in the ongoing existence of the Black people to whom they served and did so proudly and in full assurance of their faith. They became forerunners in their communities—providing different levels of services to increase the overall humanity and quality of life for everyone. It was Black church women’s work that symbolized the overall community’s aim of achieving greater social climate.

In hindsight, I realize now why most of the women in my church never thought to complain for they knew deep down inside that without them most of the work in the church and community would never be completed. They were the ones really running the threads of the fabric that brought us all together.

The Black church women we have come to know as mothers, sisters and deaconesses are fashioned from a long history of those slave women who knew what it meant to carry the torch forward in spite of the storm. Regardless of the level of racism, sexism, and classicism that this group of women faced, they remained true and constant to their overall goal of achieving a higher level of life not only for themselves but to whomever was in need. Their vital roles—their indispensability, is why many Black folk continue to strive today.

Their relentless commitment in and outside of the church may be overshadowed by their Black male counterparts, but we all know who’s really running things.


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Alice J. Rollins is an aspiring freelance writer and blogger who holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University. Her areas of interest include African American women’s spirituality, feminist/womanist pedagogy and politics of migration.

She is currently based in Chicago, IL. Email her at: alice@forharriet.com

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