Why Are These Songs So Important To Black History And Culture?

Harlem Gospel Choir on Stage at The Grille, NYC during the Art Production Gala
Leslie Taylor-Grover
January 11, 2021

When we raise our voices in song, the music creates a sacred space where we can forget our sorrows. But the “Negro Spiritual” is about more than music! Here are five ways they have powerfully bound us together throughout history.

#1: Spirituals were invented by enslaved Africans during the Middle Passage to communicate about lost loved ones. Because singing was already a part of the way our people communicated, spirituals helped us survive a heinous voyage.

#2: There are at least 6,000 spirituals, but the number is likely higher because most were not written down – and were not meant to be! Our people were prohibited from reading and writing, so most were passed on via an oral tradition.

#3: These songs were often used to navigate the space between enslavement and freedom in contraband camps, where nearly half a million of our people were kept as refugees during the Civil War when they left the Confederate states.

#4: Spirituals were passed down from generation to generation, and this helped preserve culture and connections. The songs were often used to teach about religious traditions and about the Bible.

#5: The songs helped us in our fight for liberation. They instructed those escaping to freedom on how to protect themselves, and they also served as protest songs during the Civil Rights movement.

When our ancestors raised their voices together, their cooperation helped them survive and navigate a heinous and deadly system. Like them, when we cooperate, we too can continue to fight against a system meant to exploit and dehumanize us!

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