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African American Camp Meetings: Home

Etching of “A Negro Camp Meeting in the South”

from Harper’s Weekly (August 10. 1872)

Little research has been done on African-American camp meetings, but the evidence indicates that from some of the original camp meetings, going back to the Grassy Branch Camp Meeting of 1794, slaves would attend and often hold their own services with their own preachers apart from the white camp meetings. One of the earliest African-American campgrounds is Tucker’s Grove Camp Meeting in Machpelah, North Carolina. It was permanently established in 1879, but is believed to really extend back to that 1794 Grassy Branch Camp Meeting.

In some cases, African-American and whites would share the same space, as indicated by an 1807 report by Jesse Lee from a camp meeting near Sparta, Georgia:

“The meeting began on Tuesday, 28th July, at 12 o’clock, and ended on Saturday following. We counted thirty-seven Methodist preachers at the meeting; and with the assistance of a friend I took an account of the Tents, and there were one hundred and seventy-six of them, and many of them were very large. From the number of people who attended preaching at the rising of the sun, I concluded that there were about 3000 persons, white and black together, that lodged on the ground at night. I think the largest congregation was about 4000 hearers…

The ground was laid out in a tolerable convenient place, containing 4 or 5 acres, and the Tents were pitched close to each other; yet the ground only admitted of about 120 Tents in the lines; the other Tents were pitched behind them in an irregular manner. We had plenty of springs convenient for to supply men and beasts with water. The first day of the meeting, we had a gentle and comfortable moving of the spirit of the Lord among us; and at night it was much more powerful than before, and the meeting was kept up all night without intermission however, before day the white people retired, and the meeting was continued by the black people…

On Wednesday at 10 o’clock the meeting was remarkably lively, and many souls were deeply wrought upon; and at the close of the sermon there was a general cry for mercy; and before night there were a good many persons who professed to get converted. That night the meeting continued all night, both by the white & black people, and many souls were converted before day.”

Sadly, most images of African-American camp meetings were created by white artists, and either were romanticized views of the events or display racial stereotypes typical of the period.