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

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2936-0
    Published: September 2016
  • 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

"The End of Days asks us to think about slave emancipation and Reconstruction as the era’s black Christians did--as the unfolding of God's long-promised liberation of his chosen people. This revelatory work will force many readers, especially those unaccustomed to interpreting religious language as more than metaphorical or expedient, to think anew.”--Stephen Kantrowitz, author of More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889

The End of Days explores how profoundly religious belief influenced African American political thought from the end of the Civil War to the early years of Jim Crow. Harper carefully demonstrates how blacks found in Hebrew scripture a map of their future. Identifying themselves with the ancient Hebrews as God’s chosen people, they too would endure earthly trials, but their steadfast faith would eventually bring them to a Promised Land of racial justice and fairness. Centering the focus of African American eschatology on the specific terrain of North Carolina, Harper offers a vivid portrayal of how black southerners continued to find extraordinary hope in the decades after emancipation.”--John Giggie, University of Alabama