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Negro Spirituals - Essay Example

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Slaves used spirituals to affirm their humanity and to give them hope, faith and courage to go on living when life seemed to be nothing but endless physical toil, punishment and deprivation…
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Negro Spirituals
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Download file to see previous pages In the days of slavery, songs were the only way the negroes could voice how they felt about their lives. Within 30 years of the abolition of the practice, voices were able to be heard concerning the new plights of the negro race. With time came change. For the songs, each seemed to identify a definite area of a slave’s life, be it work, home faith or whatever and how they felt about that area. “Negro spirituals were the first uniquely American music to come out of this country. European classics, Anglo ballads, hymns, and Irish jigs and reels dominated American music until the slaves created their songs of sorrow and hope to sustain them while the institution of slavery lasted… This music, so rich and varied, so deeply emotional and expressive, is a testament to the strength and tenacity of the African American people who adapted to and enriched all of American culture…Slaves used spirituals to affirm their humanity and to give them hope, faith and courage to go on living when life seemed to be nothing but endless physical toil, punishment and deprivation.”"
(Negro Spirituals: Songs of Survival by Tom Faigin. www.jsfmusic.com/Uncle_Tom/Tom_Article3.html)
One such spiritual is "Pick a Bale of Cotton." At first listen, the tempo creates a positive energy, leading the listener to believe that the person "speaking" is excited to be in the fields, picking the cotton and performing a day's work. A closer examination of the lyrics reveals, however, a completely different perspective.
In the chorus, the phrase "Oh lordy" is repeated four times, giving the impression that the task is a chore, a job that must be completed. Some slave owners would hold their workers to a daily quota, so to "Pick a Bale of Cotton" was indeed a chore.
The verses of the song basically repeat the same lines, and only the first verse shows any significant difference. The repetition could represent the drudgery of the work, the same routine again and again, with little or no hope for any changes-changes for better or worse.
"Gonna jump down, spin around, pick a bale of cotton
Gonna jump down, spin around, pick a bale a day
Gonna jump down, spin around, pick a bale of cotton
Gonna jump down, spin around, pick a bale a day."
The chorus repeats the tasks, and the only real difference among the remaining verses is "who" is going to pick the cotton. Buddy, mother, father, etc-all are resigned and regulated to the same task with little hope for change.
Slavery was abolished in 1865 and as, the years passed, Booker T. Washington emerged as an African American leader and spokesman. He addressed the new issues being faced by his race and one of his most famous considerations of the changes was when he addressed the attendees of the Cotton States and Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia in 1895.
He spoke of tolerance and understanding, and the hope that both races could live in harmony with each contributing to society. He asked the white race be tolerant as the negro's learned to adapt to their newly found freedoms. Washington spoke of how the negroes worked tirelessly for them, without recourse or any expectation of any reward. He said that it was with the help of negro race that the progress of the new south was able to move forward.
(History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web
www.historymatters.gmu.edu/d/39)
Washington related that his race would find its own way in society, through means of work, education and the spirit of cooperation. He stated, that though many of his race wanted to begin their new lives at the higher levels of society, the reality would be beginning from the bottom and climbing upward based on their own merits. Earning their own way was of the utmost importance. Equality ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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