April 29, 2021

Blues Musician W.C. Handy quote re. Spirituals

"I think these spirituals did more for our emancipation 
    than all the guns of the Civil War."

These spirituals, these Sorrow Songs, reflected enslaved people's melding of African religious cultures and white Protestant evangelicalism.  In West Africa, music and worship were holistic, and the Africans who were captured and shipped to America in the seventeenth century brought their singing with them. The spirituals emerged as enslaved people fused Protestant hymns with African musical styles into songs they could safely sing during work or prayer.  The songs gave expression to their suffering, cloaking their yearning for freedom in the stories of the Bible. ....
White planters used the Bible to justify slavery; Black people, held in bondage, used the spirituals to express their own beliefs in God, justice, and freedom.  Frederick Douglass called the songs "a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains."
Henry Louis Gates,Jr. The Black Church:This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, pp. 69-70