Today’s Black Israelites

“Black Israelite” faith centers on the belief that African Americans are the direct biological descendants of ancient Israelites, God’s “chosen people.”[1] By adopting the Hebrew identity and its special religious status, followers of this movement connect themselves with a grand narrative of oppression, revolution, and triumph as well as at least partially reject the religion of White Christian colonizers.[2]

The term encompasses a variety of distinct groups, which may claim separate titles, including Black Hebrews, Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI), and Black Jews—among others,[3] and may hold somewhat divergent religious beliefs: some worship Christ, others practice more orthodox forms of Judaism, while others seem to mix several religious traditions.[4]

However, it would do a great disservice to this movement to categorize it as solely—even primarily—a religious phenomenon; the historical, political, and sociological factors that spurred the creation of the first Black Israelite church in the immediate post-slavery era, and the circumstances that have molded this movement throughout American history are integral to any investigation of Black Israelite belief systems, as well as any potential revival of BHI membership in the current age.

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