Harlem Churches Attracting White European Tourists

According to the CNN America blog, black churches in Harlem, New York, are suddenly attracting white European visitors for an experience that the article calls “uniquely American.” Some evangelical churches known for their exuberant choirs and rhythmical sermon delivery are actually having to turn away crowds of international travelers, led there by tourist guides touting the “soul-stirring power” of the black gospel experience.

CNN spoke to Harlem historian Michael Henry Adams, who at first considered this type of tourism a kind of voyeurism. “I thought of it initially as something bad, but I realize it’s to be able to know each other better and learn about each other. There’s nothing bad in that.”

One local senior pastor, Rev. Michael Walron Jr. of First Corinthians Baptist Church, says the actual face of Harlem is changing. “You can no longer assume that a white person in a black church in Harlem is a tourist.” In fact, statistically Hispanic and whites are outpacing the number of blacks coming to live in the area.

Visitors are left beaming with the unique experience of a black gospel church, and their online comments show it. One Parisian visitor said she enjoyed “the voices of Harlem,” explaining “they don’t have this type of music in France.” Another international visitor wrote on his blog, “This was, without a doubt, one of the BEST things, if not THE best thing, I have ever experienced in my life … Whether you are religious or not, or even slightly interested in Gospel, this will just blow your mind. … Everyone must experience this; it’s a great moment.” And one British 16-year-old commented that if more churches were like this, “everyone would go.”

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