Folk Song Of The American Negro - Online Book

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A PAINTED PICTURE OF A SOUL,                         123
hood is the business of life. With these words of explanation, let us go on to the sanctum. Our journey will lead us through a tangled waste; it will be necessary to clear away and tear up by the roots much that civilization has produced, for some of the traits which men call characteristic of Negro soul, are the plain excrescences of civilization; which, although they influence him/ are not essential but accidental.
To be sure, the black man is afflicted with many of the defects and weaknesses with which other men are afflicted, and like all other branches of the human family, he is fearfully and wonderfully made; these faults are characteristic of the genus homo, and not peculiar to the Ethiopian species. The faults of humanity are well known; it is ours to seek the unknown, the soul of the American Negro; How�ever it may seem, it is not fanciful to portray the "Painted Picture of a Soul" in colors of music. This music is his own; and the only means of expressing his life. Folk Song is the unguarded, spon�taneous expression of a people's soul. It is their natural means of communication, which they understand among themselves. We know for a fact that it was never intended that the world should under�stand the slave music. It was a kind of secret pass-word into their lives. In some instances their secrets are protected by dual meanings to their songs. "Steal Away to Jesus" meant to the slave a secret meeting which the master had prohibited; and to the overseer and the rest of the world, a longing for the quiet communion with God. "Bise! Shine! For the Light is a-Coming!" meant to the slave, free�dom approaching! To the world it was the Messianic prophecy. "Keep a-Inching Along, Jesus Will Come Bye and Bye," means to the slave that freedom would come in answer to faithful prayer and service; to the world, conversion. "Great Camp Meeting in the Promised Land" and "Good News, the Chariot's a-Coming, Don't Yer Leave Me Behind" were to the slaves prophecies of the joys of free�dom; to the uninitiated, anticipations of joy in Heaven.
Man generally tells the truth in secret. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he," and he will generally express what he thinks if he is not to be charged with it afterwards. This was just the atti�tude, condition, and environment of the Negro slave. So the only source of authentic information, the only reliable source of triith in regard to the fundamentals of his character, is his songs. In making this investigation extending over a decade, all available publications