The Great Migration and the Role of the Church

By Bre Foley
            To some, church is more than just a spiritual building. It is a comforting place with a strong community of people. Baptist churches played a crucial role in supporting African-Americans in the South and that role continued when they moved north.

When over 6 million African-Americans headed to the North, close-knit church communities and supportive members made it easier for them to find a brighter future.

“The Baptist religion is one that has been around since the 16th century,” said University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s religious historian professor Tyron Woods. “Those that migrated from the South typically continued with this practice after relocating.”

Those who moved north, and to Brockton, Massachusetts, became active members of the community and the local Baptist churches. Church communities typically try and stay uninvolved with social and government affairs in order to keep the sanctity and peaceful nature of religion intact, but under the circumstances of The Great Migration, the church felt a need to help those that seemed lost.

Jill Wiley, the community minister at Messiah Baptist, provided insight as to the role the church plays when a social crisis arises. “Religion and government have never really mixed well,” said Wiley. “In that time, I can imagine it was hard for the Baptist churches, who probably gained several new people all at once, to help their parish while also trying to not involve their church in any sort of trouble.” Wiley said members of the church most likely received all the help and support that a church can give at the time.

Wood said the Church traditionally played a role in the community.“The Baptist religion has always considered missionary work and volunteer religious duties to be extremely important,” Woods said. He said helping those in need is a high priority to the Baptist church and they would help those in need, regardless of the social issues at the time.

Several members of the Messiah Baptist Church in Brockton have themselves migrated from the South to the North during the peak of segregation. Josephine Drinnell, an active member of the church for over 50 years, has faced racial discrimination throughout her life, but always finds comfort within the church. “I was the only black student throughout my entire four years of college,” Drinnell said. “It was difficult for me…I had to prove myself.” Drinnell said attending church throughout the move from Louisiana, to Minnesota, to Massachusetts, helped her cope with the intense changes in her life.


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