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


posted in: Blog, Spirituals 0

Harriet Tubman talked about and used the spirituals to help guide the slaves to freedom in the North on the UGRR. Many words in the spirituals have duel meaning and were secretly coded for the slaves to help guide them on the Underground Railroad. For instance, in the spiritual “I’m on my way to Canaan Land” the word Canaan not only meant Heaven it also meant the North and specifically it meant “I’m on my way to Canada”, where slaves could live free in the years after 1833 when the British Parliament abolished slavery across the British Empire including Canada. Once across the border the slaves continued to sing the spirituals, songs their ancestors had created on American soil, as these songs were orally passed down through the generations for many reasons, one being to record their oral history for future generations to examine. As new citizens of Canada they introduced these songs to the Canadian culture.

Most of the spirituals refer to death or crossing over into the afterlife where slavery doesn’t exist, but the secret meaning was if you used the Underground Railroad you didn’t have to die to remove yourself from slavery. That is true for the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. The secret code in this song was the word “low” meaning the deep South, lift me out of the South & slavery and carry me to freedom in the North. It was widely known for the slaves who knew about the Underground Railroad that Canada was a refuge from slavery. Harriet Tubman it is said sang this song as she passed by the window where her sibling worked in Dorchester County, MD to announce she was leaving on the UGRR headed North.

The spiritual Go Down Moses was a forbidden song for the slaves to sing as their masters, knew that was a song about escaping slavery. The slaves connected with the Biblical story of Moses leading his people to freedom and they wanted it for themselves. Harriet Tubman would defy the masters and sing that song at the top of her lungs. She became known as the “Moses of her people”. Harriet Tubman used the spirituals not only to talk with God, but to comfort and at times even to annoy people. Watch this video as she confronts a banker in NYC she believes God has chosen him to give her money to help passengers on the UGRR.



Wade In The Water is one of the spirituals that has many secret codes embedded within the song that was used to give guidance to the slave as he embarked on his journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The lyrics in this spiritual talk not only about the religious ceremony as it pertains to the Christian Church where the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or of immersion in water, or as John the Baptist baptized people in the river symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission into life as a Christian. ‘Wade in the water, ‘God’s gonna trouble the water’ for the slaves trying to escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, meant the first thing the slave master would do would be to send out the bloodhounds to track the slaves down. The bloodhounds could track the slaves easily on land, but the lyrics “God’s gonna trouble the water” tell the slave to actually find a body of water and then walk or wade in the water in that way the bloodhounds would lose the scent of the escaping slave and the slave would be safe from the dogs tracking them down.

Also in the lyrics ‘See that band all dressed in red, looks like the band that Moses led’ -It is thought that the lyrics reference Harriet Tubman whose nickname was ‘Moses of her people’. Many of the spirituals lyrics have dual meanings in the songs and in this song Moses and Harriet Tubman’s names are interchangeable because Harriet like the story in the Bible where Moses led the slaves to freedom, Harriet did the same for the slaves in the 1800’s in America.

In the last verse of Wade in the Water the lyrics are: If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed, follow me down to Jordan’s stream – In the Bible there are several references to the Jordan River, and what the Jordan River meant to the slaves here in America was the secret code name for the Ohio River. If the slave could get across the Ohio River he or she would be free.

It is also noteworthy to hear the tone of the lyrics in ‘if you don’t believe’ was meant to be a dare or a challenge for you to face your fears because if you cross the river you will be free or as the slaves put it you will be ‘redeemed’. The spirituals including Wade in the Water all have this sense that the slave is trusting God to deliver justice either now or in heaven and that they believed and found real hope in God’s promise that if ‘you ask it shall be given’. Download my CD “GRATITUDE” a collection of spirituals for your enjoyment:



I thought it would be fun to share with you part of a letter I wrote to update my fans on my work to preserve the African American Spirituals as a National Treasure back in 2006 and 2007. It was without a doubt an adventure of a life time. I believed in my dream to have the United States government honor our slave brothers and sisters for their contributions to our nation and ensure the spirituals were preserved as an American National Treasure. I trusted with God’s guidance and help I could accomplish my goal and then I just went for it, staying focused until I succeeded in accomplishing my goal. Here is part of the letter I wrote to my fans at the end of 2006! I hope you enjoy the letter! Peace and love all around Calvin Earl

“I will be sharing with you my efforts & personal journey as I continue to invite the US Congress to preserve the African American spirituals as a national treasure. In addition I will also share with you my experiences as I take my one-man show “Gifts From My Ancestors” across America in hopes of drawing national attention to the extraordinary legacy of our ancestors.

I’m pleased to report that on March 28, 2006 United States Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) submitted to the Senate, Senate Resolution 407 to declare the African American spiritual a national treasure. And on May 2, 2006 the twin resolution was submitted in the House by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT) & Congressman John Lewis (GA) House Resolution 790.

In my efforts so far I have also obtained 113 cosponsors for this legislation in the House including the Speaker Of The House, Nancy Pelosi and the entire Congressional Black Caucus & 10 cosponsors in the Senate including Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Edward Kennedy, Elizabeth Dole, and Joe Biden just to name a few.

I also have been successful in obtaining endorsements for this legislation from the:
Dr. Dorothy Height – National Council of Negro Women
Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – Harvard University
Dr. Cornel West – Princeton University
Dr. Clement Price – Rutgers University
Dr. Art Jones, University of Denver
Dr. Samuel Roberts – Columbia University
Michael Cogswell – Director of the Louis Armstrong House and Archives

As it stands today, the next step in my ongoing efforts to ensure this legislation is brought to a vote, it is necessary to resubmit the legislation to the 110th US Congress. I’m pleased to report that Senator Robert Menendez & Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro will resubmit the legislation to the 110th Congress in February 2007 in conjunction with Black History Month.

This landmark legislation is vitally important because without it, we as citizens of this nation stand to lose a significant historical segment of our national heritage. This legislation provides our nation the opportunity to recognize and honor the former enslaved African Americans for their contributions to our nation including the historical significance and beauty of their original music best known as the African American Spirituals with our deepest gratitude and respect.

Today you and I are faced with a choice. Do we or don’t we preserve the African American spirituals as a national treasure? I say we must. And I invite you to join with me to ensure the original music and the oral history created by the slaves are included in our history books and that they are held in the highest esteem as an American national treasure. I believe it is time we honor all of the gifts from our ancestors.”

Peace & Blessings,
Calvin Earl


In 1865, after the Civil War and slavery had come to an end in America our former slave brothers and sisters wanted to forget everything that reminded them of slavery and that included the spirituals and the history hidden within the music that was sacred, secret and hidden in plain view for centuries. We can all understand why they wanted to forget anything that reminded them of slavery. But by giving up the spirituals they had created during slavery to find inner strength, courage and safety to endure slavery and found that connection to the power that created us all, would mean that the sacred and secret spirituals intent would also be lost. Without the preservation of the strong moral intention of the spirituals the slaves history would slowly be forgotten. Every generation after that would succumb to those external voices that would have us believe the thought, if you are a descendant of the people who were labeled with the word slave you aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, and you are less than perfect. 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 the man.

If we move past the label of slavery to see what the enslaved people accomplished in spite of being enslaved, our perspective of history changes. The true history is inclusive rather than a one sided perspective. As a diverse nation we recognize the importance of coming together as one people as was demonstrated in the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s & 1960’s. Blacks and whites came together to fight the Civil War to end slavery so that our country lived up to it’s promise of freedom for all her people. And during the Civil Rights Movement, citizens of all colors and faiths came together to repeal the unjust laws of Jim Crow segregation so that human rights and civil rights apply to all of America’s citizens. We need to understand & embrace America’s priceless heritage of the spirituals music and oral history created by the people who were enslaved in this country. We need to learn about how they created an original music we call spirituals that enabled them to secretly communicate with each other, teach their young, record their history and heal their pain. Through the art of storytelling, song and dance, I unravel the mystery within this complex and continually misunderstood music by revealing the secret codes and unleashing the raw rhythmic sound frequency that captivated the world. For booking information on the history of the spirituals and for your American history programming visit:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 27