Akilah Beasley

College Composition 106 WISE

March 4, 2010

The Influence and Legacy of Christianity in Annie L. Burton’s Memories of Childhood’s

Slavery Days

Christianity was used as a mechanism to condition captured Africans who worked as slaves. Slaves were told that they would be saved by God if they obeyed their masters; if they continued to have faith, then one day they would be saved by the grace of God and permitted in to the pearly gates of heaven. Although this notion was used to brainwash the slaves, it gave them the comfort they needed to survive the harsh conditions of slavery. Many slaves espoused this way of thinking; they often fantasized about the utopia that they would live in once they entered the pearly gates. Was this sense of comfort gilded, or was it really pure? Many people argue this point—some say that African-Americans shouldn’t indulge in the practices of Christianity because they were used to condition their ancestors during slavery. Others argue that while the religion was embedded into the minds of slaves, they embraced the religion wholeheartedly and they felt comfort in knowing that there was a higher power(Keener and Usry 1-10).

 The narrative of the life of Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood’s Slavery Days highlights this aspect of “slave life” when it focuses on her own religious conversion. Her religious conversion was pure; it was not influenced by a faulty notion of who God was and what he could do to save a sinner’s life. It is evident that if Annie L. Burton, a former slave, was able to have a wholesome religious conversion to Christianity, than other slaves could as well. The slaves obviously put all of their faith in to their religion because they continued to practice Christianity even after Abraham Lincoln signed of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that freed all slaves (Carhahan 5). These African-American Christians had continuous faith in their religion because it became second nature to them—it was definitely pure in their hearts.

When Africans were shipped to the Americas, the Europeans devised a plan to condition them so that they could work as slaves. There were many tactics that were used to complete this task; Christianity was one of them.  The religion was used to trigger both the emotional and spiritual facets of the slaves; they were taught that if they obeyed their masters then they would be saved by God. Slaves were told that the customs that they practiced in their homeland were barbaric and ungodly—Christianity was destined to civilize them(Washington 1-13). The slaves adopted this new religion quickly, for they did not want to be ungodly. They wanted to be assured that God would save a place for them in heaven once it was their time to go. They also wanted to be sure that there would always be someone protecting them as they endured the insensitive conditions of slavery. They were given Christian names and they were introduced to church and the Holy Bible.

 As time went on the African slaves continued to practice Christianity; they would baptize their children and teach them the Christian doctrines. Generations of slaves were taught to live by the word of God. These people clutched onto this creed so tightly that once they were allowed to live as free citizens they did not want to let go of their faith. Christians continued to worship the lord—they formulated their own churches and they incorporated their own type of music and activities. The newly freed African-Americans used the church as a place to worship the lord, a meeting place, a place for youth to learn about the bible, and as a way to help the people in the community in times of need(Johnson 20-30). The church was a place where African-Americans found comfort and stability—they loved the church and the Lord, they found console in living the Christian life.

Annie L. Burton was able to witness the teachings of Christianity while she was a slave. The Religious conversion had already happened for mostly all of the slaves by the time she was born. She remembered how this religion played a huge role in the lives of the people who surrounded her. She witnessed how Negros continued to practice the religion after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation as well. Although Ms. Burton was surrounded by Christianity, she did not partake in it right away. It wasn’t until Ms. Burton was an adult when she began to put all of her faith in God. One day Ms. Burton grew extremely ill, she was not sure if she would continue to live. As Ms. Burton sat upon what she thought was her death-bed, she called onto the Lord to deliver her from her illness. She promised God that if he delivered her from her suffering that she would worship him for the rest of her days. God listened to her prayer and he seized the infectious virus that was contaminating her body. Once Annie was healed however she forgot about the promise that she had made to God in her moment of despair. Shortly after her recovery Burton grew ill again, this time was worse than the last. Annie called onto the Lord once again to nurse her back to health. She made the same promise to him as she did before; this time she swore to keep her promise. After calling onto the lord yet again, Ms. Annie claimed to have had some sort of epiphany. She said that after she prayed, it seemed as if she had gone through a dark desert place where great demons stood on both sides. She could see a dim light in the distance but she could not reach it. She then found herself in a huge swamp and she felt like she was sinking. She claimed that she threw her hands up and said, “Lord, if Thou wilt raise me from this pit, I will never fail to serve Thee.” Then she said that she had climbed on wings into the air and all of the demons that stood in her way made a great roaring. Her flight ended on the top of a hill—she was still worried because she still could not find the light. Then, at the sound of a loud peal of thunder, the earth opened, and she fell down into the fiery pits of hell. While she was in hell she prayed to God to save her, she promised him that she would serve Him again. Her prayer was answered, and she was able to fly out of the pit onto a small hill. At the foot of the hill were some children who called for her to come down to them. She could not find a way to get down however. The children then raised a ladder for her and she came down to greet them. A little angel then took her by the hand and led her in the River of Badjied of Jordan. She then looked at her ankles and shoulders and discovered she had little wings. On the river was a ship; the children and the angel escorted her onto the ship. Once they reached their destination they noticed that they were in heaven, the pearly gates opened and they all passed through onto the golden street. The street led to the throne of God, which they eagerly marched to. Then the angel guided them to a table where a feast was spread and all of the children vanished. The angel took Ms. Burton by the hand, and said, “Go back into the world, and tell the saints and sinners what a Savior you have found, and if you prove faithful I will take you to Heaven to live forever, when I come again (Burton 50-51).” Once Ms. Burton’s epiphany ended, she was delivered from her sickness. Burton immediately became baptized and she joined a church. Ms. Burton continued to have faith in the lord and she continued to do so until her life ended. Her choice to convert to Christianity was voluntary—there was no slave holder who influenced her conversion because slavery had been emancipated years before she decided to convert.

There are many other stories like Ms. Annie L. Burton’s. These types of testimonies prove all of the people who argue that African-Americans shouldn’t practice Christianity wrong. The African-American Christians obviously felt comfort in their religion because they continued to do so after slavery. It was their choice to continue to practice the religion—they did so because they felt a sense of purity in it.