The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #81179   Message #1486808
Posted By: Azizi
17-May-05 - 05:26 PM
Thread Name: African American Secular Folk Songs
Subject: RE: African American Secular Folk Songs

Usually books and online sites talk about coded {imbedded/secret} messages in African American spirituals.

For instance, the story goes that "Steal Away {to Jesus} meant that a person or persons were going to be leaving for the North or Canada. [Canada was referred to in code as 'Beulah Land', or 'the Promised Land' or 'heaven'].

And supposedly, 'cahariot'in the spirtituals 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and Good News, Chariot comin", was a coded term for the 'Underground Railroad' of assisted flight from slavery and safe houses for those fleeing slavery.

And the story is that all the train spirituals such as "Get On Board" , 'This Train", "Don't Miss That Train", Train Is Comin" etc reflected more than the interest in that new mode of transportation. According to this viewpoint, the 'Gospel Train' was a coded reference for the Underground Railroad. References to "the Conductor" meant the person who was either leading a person or group of people to freedom or one who was at a safe house helping them along the way,

Then of course there is the "Follow The Drinking Gourd" song that supposedly maps out the path to freedom.

I say 'supposedly' because it seems to me that some {or much} of the material on this 'assisted fleeing from slavery' has moved into the realm of make believe storytelling.

For example, given the fact that snitches were probably just as plentiful then as they are now, I rather doubt that the entire community would be told that an individual was planning to flee from slavery. And somewhere I read that-Harriet Tubman notwithstanding-most of those escaping from the horrors of slavery did so as individuals.

Let's get real now. I'm sure that if a slave or group of slaves fled everytime one of these songs were sung, some astute White slaveowner would put 1 and 1 together and come up with 2.

In other words, I would bet that at least some of the times these spirituals were sung for purely religious reasons.

Azizi Powell