From Labor to Reward

From Labor to Reward—Black Church Beginnings in San Francisco Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond—1848–1972 is an epic story of black people sojourning from the south to the Pacific Coast and starting their own independent churches in a social context of discriminatory practices. Martha Taylor takes us on a journey through four time frames; Gold Rush (1849–1909), First Migration (1910–1939), Second Great Migration (1940–1949), and the Civil Rights Era (1950–1972).

In Part I Taylor takes us behind the scenes of slavery in California. As early as 1852, black preachers, leaders, and organizations formed a Colored Convention for the purpose of obtaining justice because of the severity of discrimination toward black people. As early as 1852, San Francisco had three independent Black Churches that are still in existence. The first black church in Oakland started as a mission in 1858, and evolved into an African Methodist Episcopal Church followed by Beth Eden Baptist Church in 1869 known as the “Mother Church” of the East Bay because of the numerous churches that branched off.

Part II covers 1910 through 1939 including the “neck bone years” of the Great Depression. and the added pressures placed on black churches to extend beyond spiritual space to welfare space. Part III describes the growth of black churches during the Great Migration period when hundreds of thousands of blacks flooded the Bay Area as a result of employment opportunities in shipyards. At the height of the Second Migration, one old timer said “we’d go down to the 16th Street station to watch the people get off the trains. It was like a parade. You just couldn’t believe that many black people would come in, some didn’t even have luggage, just boxes with three or for children with no place to stay.”

The concept of developing a black church in black communities often started in private homes as prayer bands and bible study using the living room as sacred space without the benefit of a preacher and absent of church constitutions, or by-laws. Using the Early Church model, they shared their meager belongings, devoted themselves to fellowship, and were filled with the Holy Spirit. As more people joined, the groups would pool their meager resources and rent space in storefronts. During the same time period, the Bay Area became known as the West Coast Harlem Renaissance as jazz, gospel and blues were brought from the South to the West coast. In Part IV, Taylor brings to light how urban renewal uprooted black communities creating an urban diaspora. By the late 1990s, there was a significant decline in the black population; some moved back to the South, others relocated to the suburbs draining valuable resources from the urban areas.

From Labor to Reward is more than a book about black church growth. Black churches were more than religious institutions, they became the center of black communities providing social, economic, political, and educational support for black people. Readers will experience the joys, frustrations and unity of black people who started communities in the enclaves of the San Francisco Fillmore District, West Oakland, South Berkeley, and North Richmond as they struggled against adversities of racism, housing discrimination, KKK threats of violence and death and other socio-political barriers.

From Labor to Reward is a little known piece of black church history written from a “peoples” perspective using their voices from their own local church anniversary books, church records, oral interviews, and other sources from newspaper clippings, and library historical archives.