Monday, February 10, 2014

"African Day" Worship Services In African American Churches

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision" December 22, 2018

This is Part III of a four part pancocojams series about kente cloth.

In the United States, Ghana's and the Ivory Coast's traditional kente cloth is the most widely known of all African fabrics. Since at least the 1970s, for many African Americans, kente cloth has become a symbol of pride in our African heritage.

This post showcases the custom in some African American churches of wearing African clothing during the main Sunday worship service. Some of those clothes may be made with kente cloth.

Click these links for three other posts in this series about contemporary customs of wearing kente cloth: Wearing Kente Cloth Stoles During Graduation Kente Cloth Stoles worn By American Gospel Choirs

and Kente Parties Worldwide (videos)

The content of this post is provided for historical, cultural, religious, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the churches that are showcased in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these YouTube examples.

"African Day" is a Sunday morning worship service in certain African American churches.* On "African Day" the pastors, other church officials, choir, and members of the congregation are encouraged to wear African clothing**. This special Sunday morning church service appears to be almost always held one Sunday during Black History Month (February, in the United States). But, to my knowledge, there’s no specific Sunday in February that is common among all churches that have this custom.

The purpose of "African Day" is to celebrate the congregations' African heritage.

The only feature of "African Day" that I've experienced or read about that is common to "African Day" Sunday morning church services is that all members of the church (including the pastors, church officials, and choir) are encouraged to wear traditional African clothing or African inspired clothing. It doesn't appear that any African related singing, dancing***, poetry reading, or sermons are held during this "African Day" service. "African Day", as it is described in this post, is different from "Black History" church programs which may be held during a Sunday afternoon or on another day or evening of the week. In contrast to "African Day" services that I'm familiar with, African dancing, if not other African themed "entertainment", may occur during those Black History church programs.

It's my sense that the custom of African American churches designating one Sunday worship service as "African Day" began in the 1990s. However, this custom may have begun as early as the mid 1970s. While "African Day" doesn't appear to be a widespread custom in African American churches, I think that custom is growing. And it appears to me that more people are wearing "real" traditional African clothing during African Day church services now then they did when those services first started. That is because of the increased availability in the United States (albeit at specialty stores) of traditional West African clothing. Some of these stores are owned and operated by persons from Nigeria or other West African nations.

*I've experienced African Day in Baptist churches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And I've have read online comments about "African Day" being held in African American Seventh Day Adventist churches. Also, one of the videos below showcases a United Church Of Christ worship service which I believe is during "African Day". It's probable that African Day services are also held in other African American denominations.

**It appears to me that the "African clothing" is usually African inspired (such as long dresses for women made out of Ghanaian or Ivory Coast [imitation] kente cloth or Malian mudcloth and dashikis for the men). However, some people wear traditional West African clothing particularly in Senegalese styles or (Yoruba) Nigerian styles (such as agbadas) for the men.

It's important to note that usually African Day is the only church service of the year in which many members (or even a few members) of the church congregation (including pastors, choir, etc) wear African (or "African-like") clothing, including head wraps (geles) or dashikis. This doesn't include the kente cloth material that may adorn some pastor's robes and choir member's robes or the kente cloth stoles that some African American pastors and choir members wear throughout the year over their robes .

*** Many African American churches frown on dancing (other than the Holy Dance) at any time, but particularly in the church sanctuary.

These examples are posted in chronological order, with the oldest dated examples presented first.

Example #1 is the only the videos which describes the service as part of "African Day". However, I believe that those services shown in the video were held during "African Day" based on my experience that it is very rare for "African clothing" to be worn during Sunday morning worship services in African American churches at any time other than Sunday services designated as "African Day".

Example #1: African Day At Church

Alysia Boles, Uploaded on May 8, 2009

we had african day @church in 2007 for black history month
If I'm not mistaken, the songs that are sung are "When I Rose This Morning"/“Victory Is Mine” and "In The Name Of Jesus".

Notice that only a few members of this congregation wear African clothing. A woman in the beginning of the second row from the front wears a kente cloth dress. The woman seated next to her is wearing an African inspired dress and hat. The little boy shown in the video appears to be wearing a dashiki, and the man in the front is wearing a knitted hat in the red, gold and green pan-African colors which, broadly speaking, can be considered "African attire". It appears that the man who he is shaking hands with is also wearing an African dashiki. This is probably during the offering portion of that church service (when money is collected from the congregation for church expenses and for missionary work.)

Example #2: Union Baptist Church Gospel Choir Singing "Rock of Ages" 02.22.09-11A.M.

BaptistBoi, Uploaded on Feb 24, 2009 [Virginia Beach, VA]
Notice that although people are encouraged to wear "African clothes" during "African Day", they aren't required to do so, and (probably aside for the choir members) aren't frowned upon if they just wear "regular" American clothing.

Notice that it appears that a woman in the choir is wearing a dashiki as a top. Although dashilis were created by three African American men in the 1970s from the dansiki (pronounced "danSHE-kee), an Nigerian (Yoruba) male shirt. These men marketed dashikis to men, but early one and to date, some females in the United States also wore (and wear) dashikis.

Click for a post on the history of dashikis.

Example #3: Trinity United Church of Christ - Oh Ship of Zion/We're Marching Up to Zion

misaac78, Published on Oct 23, 2012

Trinity United Church of Christ -Oh Ship of Zion/We're Marching Up to Zion
Feb 6, 2011
Notice that this service was held during the month of February which is designated as Black History month in the United States.

Added Decembee 22, 2018
Example #4:
"Africa Day at Bethany Baptist Church" - 2 of 2

granny1814, Published on Jun 4, 2008

Africa Day celebration at Bethany Baptist Church - 5/26/08
Part I of this video features a sermon by Al Sharpton.


WVUA 23, Published on Feb 19, 2018
Elizabeth Baptist Church hosted their annual tribute to Black History Month during their afternoon service on Sunday.

The events theme highlights the history of African-Americans and how younger generations can appreciate it.

"It's so important that we know our history and those who make great contributions down through the years where we can build on what they have done. If you don't know your history your are bound to relive it," said Church Pastor Vernon Swift.

Click for an "African Day" photograph of an African American Seven Day Adventist congregation.

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