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

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!

‘GRATITUDE’ A COLLECTION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN SPIRITUALS

It is with great pride and love I present to you my new CD rerelease ‘GRATITUDE’ a collection of African American Spirituals As A National Treasure. I was thrilled to have the incomparable Katreese Barnes as background vocalist on this album. She was the first African American female music director of SNL and she is background vocalist for a multitude of artists including Sting, Alicia Keys, and many others. This CD also includes in the accompanying booklet the historic 2007 Twin Resolutions H.RES 120 and S RES 69 language recognizing the African American Spiritual as as National Treasure and honoring the Enslaved Africans for their contributions to our nation with our deepest gratitude and respect. As the US spokesman for the African American Spirituals as a National Treasure my love for the Spirituals and my passion to guarantee their preservation grows stronger every day and I am very proud of this collection of spirituals as an American National Treasure. Buy your copy today on my shop page which will direct you to CD Baby or Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s historical site and online shop. https://www.calvinearl.com/spirituals-and-freedom-songs-shop/

The African American spirituals in the 21st century are dependent upon all of us to keep their original intention and sound alive. The deep roots of our American oral history & original music invite you to connect with others to honor the gifts from our ancestors by sharing Our Stories, Our History and Our Music with the world. By sharing this rich vibrant music & the oral history of our American roots we can and will overcome the obstacles that for years have kept this information underground.

For African Americans, after slavery ended our beloved enslaved brothers and sisters wanted to forget everything that reminded them of slavery and that included their spirituals. We all can understand why. But the spirituals had helped them navigate their way to freedom. So by giving up the spirituals they had created during slavery to find inner peace, hope, strength, safety, courage and that eternal connection to the power that created us all, the now freed Africans had given up the one thing that had helped them on their journey all those years before. For themselves and every generation afterwards left them venerable to succumb to those continuing loud external voices that would have us believe if we are a descendant of the people who were labeled slaves that we somehow aren’t good enough, we aren’t smart enough, and we are less than perfect. The Supreme Court cited Dr. Kenneth Clark’s 1950 paper “To separate [African-American children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” in the landmark decision Brown VS. Board of Education.

The truth is, we are all people in spite of any label we have been given. It is how we perceive ourselves that is the measure of a man. It should be deeply concerning to us as American citizens within our diverse nation that the original intention & sound of the spirituals will be lost forever, just like the 6000+ fragments of these songs housed in the Library of Congress that will never be heard in their entirety if we don’t join together and tell our inclusive and collective story. As a wonderfully diverse country, ‘We The People’ truly believe in Thomas Jefferson’s words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Join me in cerebrating Our Stories, Our History and Our Music together. And don’t forget to purchase your copy of ‘Gratitude’ today on my shop page which will direct you to CD Baby or Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s historical site and online shop. I love y’all and thank you in advance for your business!     https://www.calvinearl.com/spirituals-and-freedom-songs-shop/

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