ON THE TRAIL OF NEGRO FOLK-SONGS

A Collection Of Negro Traditional & Folk Songs with Sheet Music Lyrics & Commentaries - online book

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TRADITIONAL SONGS AND BALLADS             39
'When I was a child in Gloucester County, they used it as a game.' I have also a Negro version from Nelson County and an interesting account of its use there as a game among Negroes."
Another version, differing in the important respect that the sex of the condemned one has been changed, was given me by Mr. Edwin Swain, a baritone singer, now of New York City, but formerly of Florida. This is interesting as an example of the way in which changes may come. Mr. Swain says that in his childhood in Florida he saw the Negroes act out this song at an entertainment in the Negro schoolhouse. He gave a vivid account of the dramatization. The condemned — here a man instead of a woman (a curious change to take place in the case of a ballad whose title is The Maid Freed from the Gallows) — was all ready for hanging, with a real rope fas­tened round his neck. The hangman held the other end of the rope in his hand, ready to jerk the victim to his fate. The victim, a large black man, appealed for mercy, begged for a few minutes' reprieve, on the ground that he saw his father coming; but the father sternly repudiated him in gesture and song. His mother was equally obdurate, and likewise the brother and sister. The stage was fairly crowded with cold-hearted relatives — for Negroes in their singing love to reach out to all remote branches of relationship. At last the man begged for one more minute, for he saw his "True Love" com­ing. True Love came in, a yellow woman dressed in white, with a box of money, and dramatically won his release.
Mr. Swain's version goes as follows:
HANGMAN, SLACK ON THE LINE
" Hangman, hangman, slack on the line, Slack on the line a little while. I think I see my father coming With money to pay my fine.
" Oh, father, father, did you bring me money, Money to pay my fine? Or did you come here to see me die On this hangman's line? "