Calvin Earl
I Travel The Back Roads Of America In Search Of The Elements Of Peace In Our Musical Heritage & History.

For All Mom’s On Earth And In Heaven

Dear Mom,

I love you. As we celebrate Mother’s Day I am reminded of the beauty and strength of Mothers all over the world who nurture and tend to their children’s needs 24/7/365. You were no different Mom. Today, I imagine you in Heaven with your dancing shoes on, free to be you, singing joyfully your favorite spiritual song “Glory, Glory Hallelujah, Since I Laid My Burdens Down” and feeling safe and unconditionally loved by the Lord you loved so much on your earthly journey. Quite a different experience from your own life here on earth, which was filled with tragedy, poverty and fear, yet you had faith and hope that one day you would know peace. I imagine you know what that feels like now, and that makes me happy.

I came into your life when you were in your mid forties. I was your 9th child, and 7th son. Although I don’t actually remember it, the circumstances surrounding my birth were difficult at best, for several reasons. Not that I need any more reasons to love you, but when I learned just how much you had to overcome in your life, I was inspired by your shear will power and faith to overcome all the obstacles in your path. What transpired in a matter of 2 years just prior to my birth, could have easily fractured and separated any family, yet somehow even with hearts broken and your life shattered, your faith pulled you and your family through.

As the words flow from my heart onto this page as I tell the intimate details of your life, it’s hard to hold back the tears. The truth is your life story has given me hope and faith and has given me the strength I’ve needed to get through the hard times in my own life. One of the many gifts a Mother gives to her children.

Two years before I was born you gave birth to twins, Bessie and Jesse, however this joyful occasion became a tragic one. Bessie and Jesse were premature so they were put in incubators. Sadly the temperature in the incubator was too high, and the twins both died a horrendous death within a few short hours. My siblings years later, described the situation to me. I was told the twins skin looked and felt like crispy fried chicken which peeled off in your hands Mom, as you held their lifeless bodies in your arms, a visual image etched in my brain forever. I can’t even imagine the depth of your disbelief and pain. A year later, in September tragedy struck again. Walter Ale, your 6 year old son while having his tonsils removed by the local country doctor, the doctor cut a main artery during the operation and Walter bled to death on the operating table. Still mourning your loss of the twins, now Walter too, the family endured struggling emotionally but needed to work to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. Within 4 short months I would be born. I was born just after midnight, but what happened in the hours just prior to my birth caused me to also be born early. On the evening of my birth, as you were rushing to get your other children inside the house to safety in a dangerous electrical storm, you with me still in your womb were hit by ricocheted lightening, and a few hours later I was born premature delivered by a midwife in a share cropper cabin on the Glen Lillie Farm where you and Dad lived and worked in the fields. Somehow through it all you held our fractured family together, keeping a closer eye and a heightened protective spirit on all your children until your death, because it is what Mom’s do.

Although your burdens were great, I remember your smile as it lit up the room. I remember eating Sunday suppers with your homemade biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, and collard greens from the garden. I remember the hats you wore to church. I remember your face when all you had to feed me was sugar water because that’s all we had. I remember your smile, when I took your seasoned cast iron skillet outside, where I tried to clean in by rubbing and scraping it with dirt and water to clean it up. I had wanted to really clean it up for you, and you never let me know that I had ruined it. I also need to ask for your forgiveness Mom. All my life until I was fifteen we celebrated my birthday on January 15th. When I needed to get my birth certificate to get my drivers license and my birth certificate showed I was actually born on the 16th I was hurt and angry with you that you didn’t even know your own son’s birthday. Once I knew the truth surrounding my birth, I clearly see and understand why. I’m sorry I questioned your love for me in that moment. As an adult I see how foolish I was to question your love for me. I am sorry. Somehow Mother’s always seem to move past their own pain, fear and disappointments to look after their children as best as they can. I will always be grateful to you Mom.

Although you passed a long time ago, I am inspired by your story and how you just kept going in spite of the difficulties you faced daily. Today, way too many Mothers are losing their children to gun violence, poverty and fear. I hope you can hear me Mom, because I want you to know I am filled with gratitude that you were my Mother, and I can’t even imagine how difficult it was for you to raise your children, with all the heartbreaking tragedy you faced head on. I see your face Mom, when I see the Mother’s faces today, who display their beauty, strength, and their unwavering quest for justice for their children, like you. They endure the pain of losing a child. Yet life goes on, Mothers just keep moving forward, they never give up, they always find a way out of no way.

I salute you Mom and all the Mother’s in the world and in Heaven.

Love from your 7th son,

Calvin

Happy Mother’s Day!

African American Spirituals Forgotten

The African American Spirituals are just too valuable to be forgotten. In my many conversations with my dear friend Dr. Dorothy Height(1912-2010), Civil Rights icon, former Chair and President Emerita for National Council of Negro Women said to me, “I am so proud of you Calvin for presenting this historic legislation to the US Congress, because without preserving the African American Spirituals, it would be like we were never here”. Even today, her words add fuel to the fire in my soul to establish a Center For Learning for this precious historical music and oral history. For me, preserving the African American Spirituals, preserves the spirit of all America, and after all the spirituals are recognized as our national music. 

Amazingly, the songs the slaves created, (known as the spirituals) allowed the slaves to be heard during a time when they were not allowed to have a voice. Their secret communications within these songs not only changed the course of history, thankfully it preserved their oral history, healed their pain, and paid forward to their children the idea that fortitude, courage and resilience will ultimately give them their human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Now that the African American Spirituals are recognized as an American National Treasure, through the Twin Resolutions I proposed and passed by unanimous vote in the US Congress in 2007, my work is not complete yet. I know it is vitally important to establish a resource center to house the history of the African American Spirituals and the enslaved African’s oral history embedded in the songs. I want to establish and build a National African American Spirituals House, that would include a center for learning, a performing arts center, and be an educational resource for school curriculums across America.  A note to self: When you have a dream, it’s time to get to work.

Dr. Dorothy I. Height supported Calvin Earl with Twin Resolutions recognizing the African American Spiritual as a National Treasure. This picture was taken at her birthday party celebrating her 97th birthday in Washington DC at the NCNW office building.

SPIRITUALS ARE THE VOICE OF A PEOPLE

Calvin Earl

The spirituals represent the spirit of hope for our nation. The spirituals set a moral high ground standard similar to the moral high ground set in our Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. The spirituals are the voice of our people who endured institutionalized slavery but chose forgiveness and healing by allowing anyone who hears their music to feel their pain and sorrow and yet feel the universal emotion of feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. 

Our slave brothers and sisters, my ancestors, chose the moral high ground to deal with their pain in hopes future generations would never have to experience the demoralization of being labeled a slave and the impact it has on the human psyche. Our brother and sister Abolitionists also believed slavery was immoral and continued to speak out and fight  against slavery until slavery was abolished in our country. The American story is messy and uncomfortable to talk about, but we must talk about our history in order to heal from our “original sin” of institutionalized slavery that has turned into racism and new kind of slavery aimed at people of color in the form of institutionalize incarceration for profit. What is needed today is a diverse and inclusive perspective of our history and history in the making, not a one sided point of view. 

The spirituals provide us with America’s oral history, a vehicle for communal singing as was demonstrated during the Civil Rights Movement when artists and activists transformed spirituals into freedom songs to bring and motivate ”we the people” to join together.

It is human nature to want your voice heard. It is also human nature to contribute and share your best God given talents to those around you so that collectively together your community will not only live but thrive. Coming together as a people putting our personal needs and wants aside for a higher purpose demanding human and civil rights for not only ourselves but for future generations not yet born. 

Dr. King once said “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society.”

In spite of colonization and the divisive nature of labeling human beings in order to establish one race’s superiority over another, the American people have joined together in movements that have charted a new course for our country.   People have risen above oppression and leaders using the divisive tactic of divide and conquer to silence the common man. Our history my be uncomfortable, but if we talk about it and make efforts to stay on the moral high ground, we all can become the change we want to see.

Music & Oral History Of Enslaved Africans 1619 – 1865

Did you know that most of the music and oral history created by the enslaved Africans in America between 1619-1865 has already been lost forever? The Library of Congress houses over 6000 fragments of the enslaved African workday & plantation songs we today call African American Spirituals that will never be heard in their entirety. The few stories and songs that we have left are at risk of being lost forever, if we don’t do something about it now.

In historical context, the African American spirituals transcended societies reflections of history in a time period that would not allow the slaves who created the spirituals to have a voice. Therefore the essence and secret intent of the spirituals were hidden in plain view in order to preserve and document the history of the slaves existence in America. We all have the need to feel valued and know that at the very least our collective story will remain for future generations to study. The slaves were no different, they just couldn’t tell their story out right in their lifetime for the world to see. They were depending on each other orally to keep their history alive for future generations. Although we don’t know the individual names of the slaves who created these songs, the spirituals represent one of the deepest most beautiful raw expressions of the human spirit ever created on American soil or the world for that matter.

The oral history of our enslaved ancestors is also at risk of being lost forever. This is a story of courage, love, hope and faith that one day their story would be told. This is American history and it matters. Like the spirituals our enslaved ancestors established traditions to honor their dead, who never had the chance to tell their story. So I’m gonna tell……. Please help me make this go viral. Share, Share, and Share again!

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