Peter Helms Feresten
Truth Tabernacle, Brother Hall, Fort Worth, TX
Churches, fraternal organizations, and social, charity, and art clubs reflect, and sometimes parody similar white institutions, while they focus on and express a deeper, more vital culture. I speak of a culture to which all participants contribute, one that tolerates no mere spectators. I speak of a culture that has sustained an oppressed people through prolonged hardship.
As opportunities gradually open to Texas’ African Americans, institutions that were spawned in poverty and isolation threaten to give away to the culture of commerce, to the homogenized soup of generic America. We all sacrifice a great deal when we abandon the values that sustained our parents in exchange for the illusion of culture presented by T.V. sitcoms. As we wall our suburbs and ma (u) ll our cities, we remove ourselves from human scale. As we concentrate by socio-economic class, we destroy the vertically integrated urban village. Our institutions cease to represent a cross section of our society. Our culture ceases to reflect the aspirations of an entire people.
In my efforts to document the churches in Fort Worth’s African American neighborhoods, I concentrate on the smallest, most local venues available. These institutions represent the least degree of disintegration of traditional culture in favor of mainstream American standards. The smaller, storefront and home churches stand as foils to the materialist, worldly society of middle America, reconstructing itself in the image of daytime television. Holiness congregations accept as axiomatic the worthless and corrupting nature of commercial culture. Within these churches those who stand apart are offered refuge. Such churches concentrate and preserve the purest forms of traditional, neighborhood values and culture. Leaders of the congregations are storytellers, orators, teachers, and organizers of spiritual growth. These men and women are the communities’ repository of folk wisdom, providing continuity to a civilization under attack.
The African American’s neighborhoods of Fort Worth are urban villages, America’s true small towns. The culture found in even their most humble institutions is poetic and runs deep. As I watch mainstream America aspire to Madison Avenue’s standards, and as “culture” is perverted to mean the consumption of Europe’s dead past, my mind wanders to the south side of town. The meaning of Culture is clear where the music is more moving, the food is spicier, and voices speak clearly the language of the heart.