During the African-American Civil Rights Movement, it was the black churches that held the leadership role. Black churches were the main points of operations in regards to the Civil Rights Movement. One example would be the late Civil Rights leader, Reverend and Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister. Church leadership was one of the few positions of leadership available. Martin Luther King had taken full advantage of his position as minister to help spark the flames of the Civil Rights Movement.
There are two things that MLK can be known for. One was the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest the arrest of Rosa Parks and future Civil Rights activist because she had refused to comply with the illegal Jim Crow laws that she give up her seat to a white man. It led to the urging to boycott the buses by E.D. Nixon who heads the NAACP chapter in Montgomery, Alabama.
While Nixon urged it, King led it. The boycott lasted for over a year and resulted in the bombing of King's house. During the boycott, King was arrested. However, the charges against him were dropped. Racial segregation on all forms of public transport was deemed to be illegal. This was one example on how the black churches played an instrumental role in the Civil Rights Movement.
It took churches let alone black churches to energize supporters. Black churches helped them keep the faith in the means of the boycott.
Two years later, King would help found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. This religious group was to use the energy of the black churches to use non-violent protests on the path to reforming civil rights.
The SCLC would be one of the six major civil rights organizations known as the "Big Six" that organized the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" in 1963.
MLK along with the SCLC had also participated in the "Bloody Sunday" march in 1965 where Civil Rights activists demonstrated. Another famous Civil Rights activist Rev. James Orange was arrested and jailed for disorderly conduct. He was getting students to aid in voting drives. Orange was charged for contributing to the delinquency of minors.
Rumors spread about that Orange would be lynched while in jail. On a side note, the march was named Bloody Sunday where 26 year old Jimmie Lee Johnson was shot in the stomach. Johnson died eight days after the Bloody Sunday march.
Another example would be Pastor Ralph David Abernathy of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He had a close partnership and friendship with Martin Luther King. He organized the boycott with MLK. In the SCLC, Abernathy was King's right hand man.
These are just brief examples on how black churches played an integral role of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. When someone asks what role did the black churches have played, one needs to look up people such as Martin Luther King Jr.
There was a strong grassroots path in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Black churches have played an important role of getting the word out. The African-American Civil Rights Movement was a cultural movement, a social movement, and most definitely a political movement. One cannot deny that this movement was highly political.
Blacks were empowered to act alone and to act together to confront the laws in the South that had oppressed them. There were many blacks desperate for hope. The black churches gave them hope for a better future.
Even today, black churches do play a role in today's politics. If they didn't play a role in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, they wouldn't play a role in today's politics.
I had worked the latter part of the John Kerry Campaign in 2004 prelude to election night. Those three weeks were the busiest. We had done a lot of canvassing in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Places we had frequented a lot were in fact black churches. Working with the black churches was extremely helpful.
So far, black churches have been integral to the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. This is another strong example on how influential the black churches were let alone influential in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
However, it was Martin Luther King that energized the black churches. But, the black churches were indeed the lifeblood of the Civil Rights Movement.