“If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,--and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because there is no flesh in his obdurate heart." Fredrick Douglass (Douglass 11).
In his autobiography Twelve Years as a Slave, Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and sold to slave masters, describes the brutality of slavery. In 1808, Northup was born free in Minerva, New York. His parents were farmers and he followed in his father’s footstep to become a farmer himself. He was living in Saratoga Springs, with his wife and three children until March 1841. Traveling to Washington, D.C., with two men who claimed they were hiring him to be part of musical performance, Northup was kidnapped, sold to slave masters, and ended up on plantations. There he witnessed and wrote about the hard physical labor of slavery. He observed that the women worked as hard as the enslaved men. Imagine an African American woman working on the plantation like a man, eating a bit of corn and bacon, whipped every day like a donkey, sleeping in “crude, crowded cabins on planks of wood.” Northup was also forced to whip other slaves (Hine, Hine, and Harrold 143). The African American slave’s life was full of brutality and sorrow. An essential way to build community in the face of the brutality of slavery was slave music. According to Arthur C. Jones, psychologist and founder of the Spirituals Project at the University of Denver, the spirituals were “a defiant collective voice asserting the power and will to survive among the community of” slaves who survived the horrors of the Middle Passage (Jones 1). One example of spiritual song was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” This song is important in African American history because it gave the slaves hope and served as “coded communication” to transfer messages of escape among the slaves.
When I first heard “Swing low Sweet Chariot”, it was hard for me to figure out the double message of the song. However, after I did some research on the meaning of the song, I was speechless. This song was sung by slave African Americans on plantations who wanted to get their freedom back. The slaves used biblical metaphors to show their wish for a release from their masters and find a place where they could get their freedom. The lyrics of the song portray the desire of African American slaves to gain back their freedom and the strategies that they used to escape from the plantations. The song begins with the two repeated lines that describe the main ideas of the song and overall this verse is repeated three times throughout the song:
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.”
In this verse the “Chariot” refers to the people who control the Underground Railroad. Thus, the singer is informing the...