Soul Liberty

The Evolution of Black Religious Politics in Postemancipation Virginia

By Nicole Myers Turner

232 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 3 halftones, 4 maps, 3 graphs, 5 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5523-9
    Published: March 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5522-2
    Published: March 2020

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2021 Library of Virginia Literary Award in Nonfiction

That churches are one of the most important cornerstones of black political organization is a commonplace. In this history of African American Protestantism and American politics at the end of the Civil War, Nicole Myers Turner challenges the idea of black churches as having always been politically engaged. Using local archives, church and convention minutes, and innovative Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, Turner reveals how freedpeople in Virginia adapted strategies for pursuing the freedom of their souls to worship as they saw fit—and to participate in society completely in the evolving landscape of emancipation.

Freedpeople, for both evangelical and electoral reasons, were well aware of the significance of the physical territory they occupied, and they sought to organize the geographies that they could in favor of their religious and political agendas at the outset of Reconstruction. As emancipation included opportunities to purchase properties, establish black families, and reconfigure gender roles, the ministry became predominantly male, a development that affected not only discourses around family life but also the political project of crafting, defining, and teaching freedom. After freedmen obtained the right to vote, an array of black-controlled institutions increasingly became centers for political organizing on the basis of networks that mirrored those established earlier by church associations.

We are proud to announce that this book will also be published as an enhanced open-access e-book on a companion website hosted by Fulcrum, an innovative publishing platform launched by Michigan Publishing at the University of Michigan Library. The Fulcrum version of the book can be located using this link:

About the Author

Nicole Myers Turner is assistant professor of religious studies at Yale University.
For more information about Nicole Myers Turner, visit the Author Page.


"A masterful exploration of post-Emancipation black religious life in Virginia. . . . A must-read for those interested in the evolution of black religious life in America."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This is specific, clear, empirical research conducted skillfully and presented straightforwardly. . . . This book swiftly rises to the A-list of must-reads in African American religious history."--Reading Religion

"Impressive. . . . Soul Liberty is a well-researched study and a valuable resource for individuals interested in African American religion and politics."--Journal of Appalachian Studies

“Taking readers on the journey from the hush harbors of slavery to the great upheavals of emancipation through the Readjuster movement, Soul Liberty’s broad compass traces African Americans’ efforts to make freedom real. Illuminating the intersections of postbellum religious and political history, Turner reveals the ways black Virginians used their religious institutions to define political strategies for embracing their full citizenship rights.”—Kidada Williams, Wayne State University

“How did black Christians in the South organize themselves both religiously and politically in the wake of the Civil War? Nicole Turner’s answer to that question unfolds in a nuanced and forceful demonstration that challenges common views of black political activity in churches. Turner’s methodology combines traditional archival materials with more recent tools such as GIS mapping, reminding historians that new understandings of the past come from new ways of approaching the sources and the data.”—Mary Beth Mathews, University of Mary Washington