The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #20724 Message #1439804
Posted By: wysiwyg
21-Mar-05 - 01:32 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: King of Names
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'King of Names'
IMO, the "Man goin' round taking names," if this was used as a code song, would have been a bounty hunter looking for fugitive slaves under the oppressive Fugitive Slave Act. This law made it leagal to seize any person of color from any state, with no right to present a defense, if s/he was said (merely suspected) of being a runaway slave. One can assume there was a master list of wanted slaves, with a name and description and perhaps an indication of other family members' names. So a man doing this WOULD equate with "death." The escapee could be executed upon "return" to the master, as a warning to other slaves, or worked to death-- even if s/he had not ever been a slave at all!
Lovely, huh? New depths of slave procurement-- just send a bounty hunter to grab them up for a "head" fee. Later, this became the practice of what we now call "racial profiling," where innocent people of color were grabbed up and given quick conviction for offenses they often had not committed, and sent to prisons' chain gangs-- to wind up as cheap labor in the south after slavery was abolished.)
In the religious sense, a "Man Taking Names" might have been a metaphor for Jesus and/or the angel of death, looking to see who was "saved" and who was not.
But I think it was code-- to let the folk in the black quarter know to hunker down. You could sing it as a religious song anywhere, and spread the word to look out for trouble.