February is Black History Month and we learn about inventors, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and more things most American history texts omit. There are so many things to learn about black people and culture. The resilience and hope black people have had despite how malicious America has been astonishing.
One of the ways that slaves stayed strong during slavery was by singing Negro Spirituals. Spirituals are Christian songs, created by African Americans, to describe the hardships of slavery. Many spirituals were also used as instructions for the Underground Railroad like Follow the Drinking Gourd which is a song about following the stars to get North.
Wade in the Water was also used for the Underground Railroad telling slaves to always wade in the water so that slave catcher’s dogs could no longer follow their scent because the water would wash it away. Other songs like Mary Don’t You Weep and Swing Low Sweet Chariot were popular and still are in churches today.
Slaves would sing spirituals at church, weddings, in the fields, celebrations, and funerals. They used music as a means to escape the horrifying conditions of their lives and to give hope that God would one day rescue them from their servitude.
Negro spirituals are a very important part of black music’s history and to this day are still sung at celebrations of black history and culture.
Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, Mahalia Jackson, and so much more have sung renditions of or sampled negro spirituals so that they live on. Spiritual leaders and activists have also used songs during services, marches, and protests.
Spirituals are still relevant today because there are many fights black people still face like food injustice, police brutality, racism, and unfortunately, the list goes on. If you are ever feeling down remember how your ancestors sung these songs to keep hope alive.