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Slave Songs Aim: How did the enslaved resist slavery through song?
During slavery times in the U.S., Capters people tried to de-Africanize the captive workforce. Enslaved Africans were forbidden to speak their native languages, to play drums, or practice their mostly own religions. They were urged and to become Christians by slave masters who used Christianity as a tool of control. Erase everything about their African backgrounds
Why was song important to the slaves?• It was a way of preserving their African culture and heritage• It helped to keep their spirits up during terrible times• Singing was a way to express themselves• Often the slaves put ‘coded’ messages into their songs
What kind of songs did they sing?The very first enslaved spirituals were inspired by African music even if the tunes were not far from those of hymns. Some of them, which were called “shouts” were accompanied with typical dancing including hand clapping and foot tapping.
Slaves and workers who were working at fields or elsewhere outdoors, were allowed to sing “work songs”. This was the case, when they had to coordinate their efforts for hauling a fallen tree or any heavy load. Even prisoners used to sing “chain gang” songs when they worked on the road or on some construction project. Some “drivers” allowed slaves to sing “quiet” songs, if they were not apparently against slaveholders. Such songs could be sung either by only one soloist or by several slaves. They were used for expressing personal feeling and for cheering one another. So, even at work, slaves could sing “secret messages”.
Coded songs• The codes of the first enslaved spirituals are often related with an escape to a free country. Have a look at these common codes:• HOME = a safe place where everyone can live free (sometimes means heaven)• CHARIOT/TRAIN = these were ways in which escaping slaves could get to a free country
• MOSES = the nickname for Harriet• Tubman who helped many slaves• escape on the Underground Railroad• GLORY = closer to freedom• DARKNESS = in slavery• WADE IN THE WATER = advice to slaves to how to escape being tracked by hounds• STEAL AWAY TO JESUS = a warning that an escape attempt would be happening soon
ENSLAVED SPIRITUALS AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD The Underground Railroad (UGRR) helped slaves to run to free a country. A fugitive coulduse several ways. First, they hadto walk at night, using hand lights and moonlight. When needed, they walked (“waded”) in water,so that dogs could not smell theirtracks. Second, they jumped into How do you think these songs chariot, where they could hide became popular amongst slaves? and ride away. These chariots stopped at some “stations”, but this word could mean any place where slaves had to go. Why were many of these songs notSo, negro spirituals like “Wade in written down until long after the Water”, “The Gospel Train” slavery had ended? and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” directly refer to the UGRR.
Swing Low, Sweet ChariotChorus: If you get there before I do, Comin for to carry me home,Swing low, sweet chariot, Jess tell my friends that Im a comin Comin for to carry me home! too, Comin for to carry me home.I looked over Jordan and what did I see? Chorus:Comin for to carry me home! Im sometimes up and sometimesA band of angels comin after me, down,Comin for to carry me home! Comin for to carry me home, But still my soul feels heavenlyChorus: bound Comin for to carry me home!Can you hear any coded messages in this song?
Chorus: Swing low = come down from the north (whereSwing low, sweet there was no slavery) chariot, Comin for to carry Sweet chariot = the me home! “Underground Railroad”I looked over Jordan Home = To freedom and what did I see? Jordan = The riverComin for to carry me home! Angels = workers on theA band of angels Underground Railroad comin after me,Comin for to carry Coming after me = helping me home! me to reach the North
Listen to these songs and try and find the coded message in them while you fill in your worksheet
Wade in the Water • Wade in the water. • Chorus Wade in the water, children. • Jordans water is chilly and cold. Wade in the water. Gods gonna trouble the water. Gods gonna trouble the water. It chills the body, but not the soul. • Well, who are these children all Gods gonna trouble the water. dressed in red? • Chorus Gods a-gonna trouble the water • If you get there before I do. Must be the children that Moses led Gods gonna trouble the water. Gods a-gonna trouble the water. Tell all of my friends Im coming too. • Chorus Gods gonna trouble the water.• Whos that young girl dressed in white Wade in the Water Must be the Children of Israelites Gods gonna trouble the Water.
For the struggle for Civil Rights in the 1960s, African American hymns like “We Shall Overcome”, “Oh Freedom” and “This Little Light of Mine” used to be sung. Did you know?The song Amazing Grace was written by a white slave trader. On theway back to England, the boat he was in carrying hundreds of Africanslaves was shipwrecked but miraculously, the slave trader survived.Afterwards he became a born-again Christian and joined the anti-slavery movement. It is thought that Amazing Grace was based on anAfrican spiritual song he had heard whilst in America
Amazing Grace• Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, • The Lord has promised good to That saved a wretch like me.... me... I once was lost but now am found, His word my hope secures. Was blind, but now, I see. He will my shield and portion be... • Twas Grace that taught... as long as life endures. my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. • When weve been here ten How precious did that Grace appear... thousand years... the hour I first believed. bright shining as the sun. • Through many dangers, toils and Weve no less days to sing Gods snares... praise... we have already come. then when weve first begun. Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far... • Amazing Grace, how sweet the and Grace will lead us home. sound, That saved a wretch like me.... I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see.