Another aspect of South Carolina politics often misunderstood is the relationship between black churches and political action. This, too, had its roots in Reconstruction. In the passage below, Hector Moreau, a former slave turned political activist, tries to explain it to Jonathan, who sees politics as a matter to be handled by education. The setting is upper South Carolina in 1870.
Hector, too, had listened carefully when Robert Smalls outlined what Jonathan could do within the schools to make sure new black citizens became effective voters. He realized that black churches could perform much the same role. Under his direction, the small African-American church he had helped to establish in Aiken became a center for adult education and for the effective exercise of voting rights.
When the Grenvilles returned to the Aiken farm for the summer, Hector was eager to meet with Jonathan again and discuss what he had accomplished.
“Our little AME church has become the center of the black community,” he began. “I suggested we start a kind of political club to keep our members informed of what the Republican Party was doing. The idea went over well, and it soon became a group that also offered social events. Wednesday night suppers proved popular and greatly increased our attendance. And now the gathering also provides assurance that members will help one another in times of crisis such as illness or the death of family members.”
“That sounds like an interesting progression. I wish my school classes on voting were that effective.”
“I think the real key is that the lines that separate religion from political action have begun to blur. Our people see voting as one of the obligations they owe to one another and to their faith. What begins as a political rally can turn seamlessly into a revival meeting, and our worship services frequently end with a call to political action. ”
Once again, Jonathan was not prepared to follow Hector’s lead. “But the United States was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. It sounds to me as if you may be treading dangerous ground by combining the two.”
“It’s who we are, Jonathan. In the minds of my people, political action is a religious duty. I can’t even imagine how you can separate the two.”
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