Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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SONGS OF THE AMERICAN SLAVES
Chicago, and inspired by President Lincoln's second call for volunteers in the summer of 1861. There was time for the negro song to have grown up between 1861 and the emancipation of the slaves, but it is not likely that slaves anywhere in the United States outside of the lines of the Federal armies would have dared to sing
O Freedom, 0 Freedom,
O Freedom over mel Before I'll be a slave. Fll be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord,
And be free!
before 1863. Besides, the song did not appear in print, I believe, till it was published in "Religious Folk Songs of the Negro, as Sung on the Plantations," an edition of "Cabin and Plantation Songs as Sung by the Hampton Students," published in 1909. The early editions of the book knew nothing of the song. Colonel Higginson quotes a song with a burden of "We'll soon be free," for singing which negroes had been put in jail at the outbreak of the Rebel­lion in Georgetown, S. C. In spite of the obviously appar­ent sentiment, Colonel Higginson says it had no reference to slavery, though he thinks it may have been sung "with redoubled emphasis during the new events." It was, in fact, a song of hoped-for deliverance from the sufferings of this world and of anticipation of the joys of Paradise, where the faithful were to "walk de miry road" and "de golden streets," on which pathways "pleasure never dies." No doubt there was to the singers a hidden allegorical significance in the numerous allusions to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage contained in the songs, and some of this significance may have crept into the songs before the day of freedom began to dawn. A line, "The Lord will call us home," in the song just referred to, Colonel Higginson says "was evidently thought to be a symbolical verse; for, as a little drummer-boy explained to me, showing all his white teeth as he sat in the moonlight by the door of my tent, eDey tink de Lord mean for say de Yankees.' "
If the songs which came from the plantations of the
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