Ralph Ellison suggests in his book the Invisible Man, that a black man considers himself socially invisible. He states “I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man.”― Ralph Ellison
In a way that is what I felt was happening to the spirituals and the people who created them. I created Saving Our Spiritual (SOS) Roots Blog as an extension of my concert/lecture performances which I take on the road to universities, churches, concert halls & in libraries-clearly a most valuable resource in communities all across America. I believe it is vital to humanity and our diverse American culture to save the black spirituals because these songs are America’s oral history, and represent an entire group of citizens whose contributions to our nation are immeasurable in building a nation and have for far too long been invisible and discarded.
Unless we unlock the true essence of the black spirituals and learn about the slaves who created them, this vital part of American history could be lost forever. Did you know that, most of the music & oral history created by the slaves has already been lost forever? The Library of Congress houses over 6000 fragments of these songs that will never be heard in their entirety. The few stories & songs that we have left are at risk of being lost forever, if we don’t do something about it now.
Ralph Ellison further states in his book the Invisible Man: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
In my own journey to understand who am I and why am I here I needed to know why the spirituals were such an intricate part of who I am. I set out to find the answers and what I found was I had to first understand and know more about my enslaved ancestors who created this extraordinary music I love in the context of American history. The truth is, if we don’t know where we came from, how can we possibly know who we are and where we are going. For those of us, like myself whose ancestors were born in slavery in America, the black spiritual songs hold within them the key to our African American cultural heritage and America’s oral history. When I realized that our history was not only invisible it was disappearing I had to do something. I couldn’t stand by and watch the original sound of the spirituals disappear from existence. That is why I asked then helped move the US Congress in 2007 to an unanimous vote to honor the slaves for their gifts to our nation with our deepest gratitude and respect and recognize the African American spiritual as a National Treasure. Enjoy this video of my conversation with Congressman John Lewis (GA) as he talks about the spirituals and their effect on the Civil Rights Movement! It is fascinating!