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Freedom also brought with it opportunities for self-improvement and "getting ahead," and differences of class and location also fostered different kinds of religious practices and beliefs. Gradually, Southern religious life became as variegated as that in the North, with Protestant churches to suit a variety of styles. Generally, poorer and more rural churches tended to cling more tenaciously to older customs, and to more experiential forms of worship, and since the vast majority of Southern blacks remained in rural areas, many of the traditions inherited from the "hush harbors" of slavery--including root work, chanted preaching, and particularly musical styles--remained a part of church life. In Southern cities, as the numbers of educated and middle-class African Americans grew, so too did the interest in a more codified and uniform religious experience like that of the North.
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Meanwhile, African American religion in urban areas of the South also changed dramatically, particularly after the 1880s. Here, issues of class predominated, as middle-class blacks began to build a religious life much like that of their white counterparts: the AME Church, in particular, was noted for its large, formal churches, its educational network of schools and colleges, and its vast publishing arm that included several publications by the end of the century. Black religious leaders became involved in some of the interdenominational institutions, such as the YMCA and the Sunday School movement, that were the bulwarks of evangelical life at the turn of the twentieth century. Yet unlike white evangelical leaders of the day, who were also engaged in theological battles about biblical history and interpretation, middle-class blacks kept their eyes trained toward the basic social injustices wrought by American racism. This battle, which had steadily worsened after the 1870s, promoted a degree of political unity among black Protestant groups that, at times, outweighed their many differences.