The African American Spirituals Story

Calvin EarlThe African American spirituals story is deeply embedded within the American story. It is important to realize that the spirituals created by the enslaved Africans in America, have been and are embraced by all of us. Their unique and original sound is the foundation and inspiration for most American music in our short history. Boldly the spirituals have been crossing racial and cultural lines to give us all the courage to keep believing in our ideals, in spite of legal laws trying to segregate us as citizens. America in all her imperfections, is worth believing in and fighting for. 

America, “The Great American Experiment” began as a fledgling country in search of its soul by ruling itself as a democracy. For the first time in world history, a country would choose a governing leadership that would be comprised of individuals coming together as equals to form a government for, of and by the people to collectively be responsible for defining and governing our destiny as a country. Some of these ideals have yet to be fulfilled, and in order to accomplish this we must be the change. We must not settle for stagnation or apathy as the acceptable norm, instead we must choose hope and a willingness to create solutions to end poverty, racism and injustice for the good of our children and our nation.

“We The People” should pride ourselves in our diversity and recognize that our strength as a nation stems from choosing to come together on our moral values as a nation for the common good of all of us. We must finally acknowledge the role and many contributions of the enslaved Africans as equal fellow builders of this country in order to live up to the true meaning of equality as a human right that belongs to all of us not just a few.

The African American spirituals played a vital role in our history and our music’s history. It is the source from which America’s multiple music genres were created from. Besides being the source of our Americana music the spirituals have always been a compass that reflects our humanity in real time. Americana music is a big part of how we overcame major moral hurdles in American history. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our beloved enslaved brothers and sisters who from 1619 -1865 not only for their labor and inventions to build our nation but they gave us an original music out of which inspired our multiple genres of Americana music.

It is my greatest honor to teach and share what I have learned in my studies about our music history and the vital role of the African American spirituals. I also share the oral history I learned from my Elders as a young boy in the cotton fields, and the back wood country churches in my home state of North Carolina where my family and many in our community worked and lived as sharecroppers. I shed light on the secret coding hidden within the songs to help runaway slaves find safe routes on the Underground Railroad. I talk about how the Abolitionists pressured elected officials and worked to sway the public to abolish slavery on moral grounds. I talk about how the Abolitionists risked their own lives in helping ensure runaway slaves on the UGRR made it safely to their destination of freedom. We will also explore how the spirituals are the foundation and inspiration for most Americana music genres  including blues, jazz, gospel, folk, country, R & B, and rock and roll, and others. The African American spirituals have stood the test of time and transformation and will forever continue to be safekeeping a message of hope.

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