Today is the 7th anniversary of when the United States Congress “Recognized the African American Spiritual as a National Treasure” and “Expresses the deepest gratitude, recognition, and honor to the former enslaved Africans in the United States for their gifts to our Nation, including their original music and oral history”
As I sat in the gallery on February 7, 2007 watching this process unfold, I was taken back by the magnitude of the event, but more importantly I felt a huge debt of gratitude to our ancestors who had made it possible for me to even be sitting in the US Capitol building with an idea that I wanted to honor my ancestors. The fact that I presented this idea to members of the US Congress who then embraced it and presented Twin Resolutions to the entire US Congress, seems impossible for a kid born is a sharecroppers cabin. It’s amazing if you have the faith and believe in something enough you can do it. So as I watched the House pass this resolution to honor the slaves who in their time didn’t have a voice, I trembled with joy as I had just witnessed America in one of her finest hours.
Thank you Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro for believing in my idea and sponsoring the resolution in the House of Representatives . Thank you Congressman John Lewis for your huge heart, and your fortitude to protect the integrity of our ancestors for all these years. Thank you Senator Menendez for sponsoring the resolution in the Senate. And thank you to all who lent your support to my idea. It just goes to show you that if you believe in it enough, and are willing to work hard you can do anything. That is what our ancestors did, they came together to build a country that now belongs to all of us. The question is where do we go from here? Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness seems to me a great place to start. I love you all for your gracious support of my work all these year to honor the slaves, these amazingly beautiful, giving and productive people who were human beings first and slaves second. I applaud you for going beyond the fear and stigma implied to the institution of slavery and join me as we looked at all our ancestors, of all diversities and see the faces of Americans. Peace & love all around, Calvin Earl
A lot of people dreams are becoming more based around the arts and music. And many do not have the tools to become successful because schools are cutting art programs and music programs. What are your feelings on them cutting these programs?
Thank you for your question Emily!
Unfortunately, the arts & music programs for schools or communities in America have always been limited or nonexistent. To put it in perspective and in the context of our history, back in 1895 the famed Bohemian Composer, Antonin Dvorak while working in America wrote and published an article regarding his observations of music & arts in America. Below are a couple of his observations on the matter, that sadly still exist today :
“The great American republic alone, in it’s national government as well as in the several governments of the States, suffer art and music to go without encouragement. Trades and commerce are protected, funds are voted away for the unemployed, schools, and colleges are endowed, but music must go unaided and be content if she can get the support of a few private individuals…”
He also states that: “ Art, of course must always go a-begging, but why should this country alone which is so justly famed for the generosity and public spirit of its citizens, close its door to the poor beggar? In the Old World this is not so.”………. “ No wonder American composers and musicians grow discouraged, and regard the more promising conditions of music in other countries with envy! Such a state of affairs should be a source of mortification to all truly patriotic Americans.”…..
“….when music has been established as one of the reigning arts of the land, another wreath of fame and glory will be added to this country which has earned its name, the “Land of Freedom” by unshackling her slaves at the price of her own blood.”
Dvorak’s observations still ring true today. In American history, music and the arts have always been deemed as optional and not a necessity to obtain a good education or become a productive citizen. Nor have the arts or music been a vital part of how we define ourselves as a country or as American citizens. Because, and rightly so, we created a new government on the ideals of “democracy” which had never been done before, we have viewed democracy as our most precious asset & commodity. America is and will always be known for her ideals, and economic accomplishments rather than her arts or music.
The other obstacle facing the arts & music programs in America is a very practical dilemma. For all practical purposes the vast size of our country and with our citizens mostly living in rural areas spread over thousands of miles apart has made it difficult to have much of a national arts or music program, that would work for all areas. What would work in a city might not work in a small rural town in South Dakota.
Large cities have always welcomed the arts & music, but when most of our population live in rural areas the physical limitations for art & music to be displayed or performed are limited. So it has been difficult to establish interest nationally. In fact, America’s only National music are the American Spirituals, created by the American slaves in the cotton fields of the Old South and it wasn’t until I presented legislation to the US Congress in 2006 the spirituals even had the possibility to be recognized as a National Treasured. It took that legislation to make them a National Treasure in 2007. So much work is yet to be done, it is up to us as citizens to shine a light on what we feel is important to us, our diverse culture and our heritage as a nation.
In my opinion, for the most part American music, performing arts & fine arts have been born out of individual artists working on their craft rather than relying on help in arts or school programs. They relied on their own deep desire and conviction of their soul to create and to get their music heard or art displayed. I believe until we as a nation shift our consciousness to recognize and include music & art as a vital part of our every day lives, will school & art funding become more readily available. I would love to see much more music and arts funding for schools and communities, because music and art had the power to transform peoples lives and has always influenced our understanding in creating the world we want to live in. It is through the arts that artists, visionaries & leaders gain perspective and find ways to change cultural behavior and attitudes along with the times. Most of our founding fathers including Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, included music and art in his everyday life.
Alas, in 2014 the artist, or student, must rely on the strength of their passion/talent to find a way to have their music heard or art displayed. If we want change, we must be willing to change our beliefs and change our priorities to do so. The greatest gift our youth can bring to the table is your youthful enthusiasm and energy to affect the change you want to see. One person can make a difference. I know this is true, because I asked and then helped move the US Congress to ensure the American Spirituals are a National Treasure. If you want change be the change.