The End of Days

African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation

By Matthew Harper

224 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6871-0
    Published: November 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2937-7
    Published: August 2016

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For 4 million slaves, emancipation was a liberation and resurrection story of biblical proportion, both the clearest example of God’s intervention in human history and a sign of the end of days. In this book, Matthew Harper demonstrates how black southerners’ theology, in particular their understanding of the end times, influenced nearly every major economic and political decision they made in the aftermath of emancipation. From considering what demands to make in early Reconstruction to deciding whether or not to migrate west, African American Protestants consistently inserted themselves into biblical narratives as a way of seeing the importance of their own struggle in God’s greater plan for humanity. Phrases like “jubilee,” “Zion,” “valley of dry bones,” and the “New Jerusalem” in black-authored political documents invoked different stories from the Bible to argue for different political strategies.

This study offers new ways of understanding the intersections between black political and religious thought of this era. Until now, scholarship on black religion has not highlighted how pervasive or contested these beliefs were. This narrative, however, tracks how these ideas governed particular political moments as African Americans sought to define and defend their freedom in the forty years following emancipation.

About the Author

Matthew Harper is assistant professor of history and Africana studies at Mercer University.
For more information about Matthew Harper, visit the Author Page.


“A most provocative and interesting volume that points to some promising new angles of scholarship in American and African American religious history. Those who are studying African American religion or history in the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction periods will benefit greatly from reading and interacting with this work.”--Reading Religion

“[Harper's] extensive research in multiple archives yields a valuable account of black Protestants tenaciously asserting that the god of Christian faith was still active in history despite the overwhelming expansion of institutional racism. Recommended.”--Choice

“Solidly researched and accessibly written. . . . An important addition to the literature on African American religiosity during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”--Journal of Church and State

“Provides a fresh perspective on African American politics and religion.”--North Carolina Historical Review

“Illustrates how black biblical and theological interpretations challenged, and often inverted, those of white Southerners.”--Reviews in American History

“In this concentrated study of black Protestant leaders in North Carolina, Matthew Harper shows that placing themselves within biblical stories allowed black Protestants to chart their future . . . [Harper] seeks to demonstrate that theology preceded political choice and economic reality.”--Journal of American History