Songs of Zion

The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa

By James T. Campbell

Songs of Zion

448 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., notes, index

Not for Sale in South Africa

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4711-4
    Published: March 1998

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Awards & distinctions

1996 Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians

Carl Sandburg Literary Award for Non-Fiction

Founded by free people of color in Philadelphia in the aftermath of the American Revolution, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church emerged in the nineteenth century as the preeminent black institution in the United States. In 1896, the church opened mission work in South Africa, absorbing an independent "Ethiopian" church founded by dissident African Christians a few years earlier. In the process, the church helped ignite one of the most influential popular movements in South African history.

Songs of Zion examines this remarkable historical convergence from both sides of the Atlantic. James Campbell charts the origins and evolution of black American independent churches, arguing that the very act of becoming Christian forced African Americans to reflect on their relationship to their ancestral continent. He then turns to South Africa, exploring the AME Church's entrance and evolution in a series of specific South African contexts. Throughout the book, Campbell focuses on the comparisons that Africans and African Americans themselves drew between their situations. Their transatlantic encounter, he argues, enabled both groups to understand and act upon their worlds in new ways.

About the Author

James T. Campbell is senior research officer at the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
For more information about James T. Campbell, visit the Author Page.


"A wonderful example of the best of comparative religious history."--Religious Studies Review

"Essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand the character of black people and, by virtue of that, the American spirit as well. Balanced in every respect, rich in research, James Campbell's history of the AME Church on two continents is a major contribution to the literature of the African diaspora."--Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage

"The definitive account of the most important institutional connection between African Americans and black South Africans."--George Fredrickson, Stanford University

"A major contribution to a genre just beginning to appear, what one can only call transatlantic history. . . . Campbell has produced a sprawling history, impressive not only in its breadth and depth of research, but in the graceful prose and absolute authority it brings to a host of topics. . . . Remarkably free of jargon, political moralizing, and ideological prescriptions, Songs of Zion stands as a major contribution to the emerging history of the Black Atlantic in all its ambiguity and richness."--Transition

"A sweeping, powerful, vibrant study. . . . By turns, this is a heroic and tragic story--one that will introduce both South African and American historians to dimensions of their histories that they barely know. Campbell's analysis of this complex transatlantic encounter should inspire all those who appreciate the richness of breaking the boundaries of compartmentalized history."--Frederick Jackson Turner Award committee

"Campbell's analysis is illuminating, important and in some ways courageous. . . . [His] innovative treatment of transatlantic connections stands out as a historically grounded approach to the study of . . . the 'Black Atlantic.'"--American Historical Review