The black church, particularly in its Protestant manifestation, was the most visible institution driving social and political, as well as religious, leadership during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Such mainstream political leaders in the movement as Dr. King, Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis (now a U.S. Representative) had the credentials of ordained ministers, not political scientists, when they assumed their leadership roles. And while it might be argued that such organizations as the Nation of Islam (NOI) are more social, economic, and political than religious in character, at least in the American experience, it is nevertheless the case that they had a religious frame of reference. Indeed, the growth of membership in the NOI since the 1960s speaks to the influence of the organization as a social and cultural vehicle of the African American community in ways strikingly similar to that of the black Christian churches throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
To answer the issues regarding the purposes and ways in which the black church has exercised influence on the black American culture is to point to the significance and need for this study. No less significant is the degree to which and manner in which such influence has changed in recent years. Accordingly, it is in an elaboration and understanding of the established and shifting functions of the black church that one may discern patterns of sociological significance. Once such patterns