When one thinks of African American spirituals, images of a church service with a choir singing in beautiful harmony swaying in rhythm to the music usually ensue. Spirituals are far more significant than hymns sung by Christians in a church setting, as we shall soon see.
Spirituals are religious folk songs that were created and sung by enslaved African Americans to express the emotions and thoughts of a people in bondage. More importantly, they are detailed, accurate historical documents that give us great insight into the lives of African American slaves. Slavery was legal in the United States from 1650 until the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. During this period, slaves were torn from their homeland of Africa and were forced to live in North America. As such, they were forced to adopt the language and the religion of Christianity by their masters, while giving up customs and traditions from home (Small).
Slaves were required by their masters to attend church. The slaves soon realized that many of the biblical stories they learned about in church paralleled their own lives and struggles.
They learned of the Jew’s captivity and exile to Babylon and they could see the echo in their own lives. When they heard of David and Goliath, they could identify themselves with David and their masters with Goliath and they had a little assurance that one-day like David they would prevail. They also learned of God’s saving grace and since they had no one but God to rely on, many accepted Christ as their savior and longed for the day when they could obtain their crown of righteousness and the full life promised to them by the gospel of Christ (Sanger).
The analysis of this period, and the subsequent lessons learned, have been pivotal in the development of the human rights movement in America. While some view spirituals as just songs, it is pellucid to see that they are much more complex and served a...