African-American camp meetings, held annually from the mid-1800s to the present in designated campgrounds during harvest time (July through October), play an important role in maintaining a sense of cultural history and community identity and in strengthening family relationships.
People travel many miles to the camps each year so that they can renew friendships and see family members and friends they haven't seen in a long time. Often, there will be four or five generations of family members present.
The camp meeting is an important part of the historical, cultural, social and religious heritage of Southerners, black and white, in the antebellum South who would travel great distances to attend religious gatherings held at campgrounds and led by "circuit" preachers.
For African-American slaves, it was one of the few places they could meet and enjoy some sense of freedom. They brought everything they needed to survive, from tents to chickens. The African-American camp meetings grew out of white camp meetings, where slaves worshipped with or whose camps were on the back side of the white campgrounds. The camp structure was similar, but the style of preaching and music was distinct.
The land or grounds were either sold or given to African Africans by white land owners to use for the religious camp meetings. Owners of the campgrounds are called trustees.
Over time, canvas tents have been replaced by wooden ones that have porches and plank benches and that can be handed down to the next generation. The set-up of the tents has remained the same, placed in a circle around a tabernacle or brush arbor so that the religious nature of the camp meeting remains the focus.