How Enslaved Spiritualists Were Among The First Black Radicals

Contrary to popular belief, our people never passively accepted enslavement. There were the runaways, revolutionaries, and those who covertly challenged day to day operations on the plantation. And then there were the Spiritualists.

How Enslaved Spiritualists Were Among The First Black Radicals
Via Wikimedia Commons

Enslaved Africans had no political power. But they still found ways to protest.

Enslaved women faked pregnancies to avoid inhumane conditions. Those who styled hair weaved intricate maps into their braids so those looking to escape could read them covertly.

Desperately wanting to read and write, which was illegal, many eavesdropped on their enslavers’ children’s lessons. And then there were the Spiritualists.

Spiritualists protested in plain sight, infusing objects with protective sacred energy and hiding entire altars within their living spaces. Spiritualists met secretly at night, gathering in the woods to pray, plot, and conjure.

Rootworkers made protective tinctures and preserved traditional West African spiritual practices and deities within the forced adoption of Christianity. Many used Christian scripture to question the morality of enslavers.

Spiritualists were leaders amongst enslaved communities and it’s possible they were the first Black “radicals.” It was their rituals, teachings, and convenings with the spirit that influenced many revolts.

It’s no coincidence that post-emancipation many Civil Rights activists were also faith leaders.

Writer Audre Lorde believed what’s personal is political. Nothing is more personal or political than our spiritual work. Reframing enslaved Spiritualists as political reminds us of our power.

Our spirituality is an active protest, our altars the front line, our manifestations and conjurings blades that stay machete-ready in the name of freedom.

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