SSU Stirrings of Abolitionism Becoming Human Discussion

Write a 400-500 word summary over the theme becoming human. You must cite information from the material, focus on the theme , and offer your personal refelction. Use from the files below to cite from an use MLA Format an include a citation page.

AMH2092 OER: African American History and Culture
Module 6: Primary Resource Document
David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, 1829
Source Overview: David Walker was the son of an enslaved man and a free black woman. He
traveled widely before settling in Boston where he worked in and owned clothing stores and
involved himself in various reform causes. In 1829, he wrote the remarkable Appeal to the
Colored Citizens of the World. In it, he exposed the hypocrisies of American claims of freedom
and Christianity, attacked the plan to colonize black Americans in Africa, and predicted that
God’s justice promised violence for the slaveholding United States. (1)
Having travelled over a considerable portion of these United States, and having, in the course of
my travels, taken the most accurate observations of things as they exist—the result of my
observations has warranted the full and unshaken conviction, that we, (coloured people of these
United States,) are the most degraded, wretched, and abject set of beings that ever lived since the
world began; and I pray God that none like us ever may live again until time shall be no more.
They tell us of the Israelites in Egypt, the Helots in Sparta, and of the Roman Slaves, which last
were made up from almost every nation under heaven, whose sufferings under those ancient and
heathen nations, were, in comparison with ours, under this enlightened and Christian nation, no
more than a cypher—or, in other words, those heathen nations of antiquity, had but little more
among them than the name and form of slavery; while wretchedness and endless miseries were
reserved, apparently in a phial, to be poured out upon our fathers, ourselves and our children, by
Christian Americans!
… But against all accusations which may or can be preferred against me, I appeal to Heaven for
my motive in writing—who knows what my object is, if possible, to awaken in the breasts of my
afflicted, degraded and slumbering brethren, a spirit of inquiry and investigation respecting our
miseries and wretchedness in this Republican Land of Liberty!!!!!!
…Will any of us leave our homes and go to Africa? I hope not. Let them commence their attack
upon us as they did on our brethren in Ohio, driving and beating us from our country, and my
soul for theirs, they will have enough of it. Let no man of us budge one step, and let slaveholders come to beat us from our country. America is more our country, than it is the whites—
we have enriched it with our blood and tears. The greatest riches in all America have arisen from
our blood and tears:—and will they drive us from our property and homes, which we have
earned with our blood? They must look sharp or this very thing will bring swift destruction upon
them. The Americans have got so fat on our blood and groans, that they have almost forgotten
the God of armies. But let them go on…
I count my life not dear unto me, but I am ready to be offered at any moment. For what is the use
of living, when in fact I am dead. But remember, Americans, that as miserable, wretched,
degraded and abject as you have made us in preceding, and in this generation, to support you and
your families, that some of you, (whites) on the continent of America, will yet curse the day that
you ever were born. You want slaves, and want us for your slaves!!! My colour will yet, root
some of you out of the very face of the earth!!!!!!
AMH2092 OER: African American History and Culture
Module 6: Primary Resource Document
I also ask the attention of the world of mankind to the declaration of these very American people,
of the United States. A declaration made July 4, 1776. It says, “When in the course of human
events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected
them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station
to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them. A decent respect for the opinions of
mankind requires, that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.—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 ….” See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language? Hear
your language, proclaimed to the world, July 4th, 1776—”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!!”
Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your
cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our
fathers and on us—men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation!!!!!!
Now, Americans! I ask you candidly, was your sufferings under Great Britain, one hundredth
part as cruel and tyranical as you have rendered ours under you? Some of you, no doubt, believe
that we will never throw off your murderous government and “provide new guards for our future
security.” If Satan has made you believe it, will he not deceive you? Do the whites say, I being a
black man, ought to be humble, which I readily admit? I ask them, ought they not to be as
humble as I? or do they think that they can measure arms with Jehovah? Will not the Lord yet
humble them? or will not these very coloured people whom they now treat worse than brutes, yet
under God, humble them low down enough? Some of the whites are ignorant enough to tell us
that we ought to be submissive to them, that they may keep their feet on our throats. And if we
do not submit to be beaten to death by them, we are bad creatures and of course must be damned,
&c. If any man wishes to hear this doctrine openly preached to us by the American preachers, let
him go into the Southern and Western sections of this country—I do not speak from hear say—
what I have written, is what I have seen and heard myself. No man may think that my book is
made up of conjecture— I have travelled and observed nearly the whole of those things myself,
and what little I did not get by my own observation, I received from those among the whites and
blacks, in whom the greatest confidence may be placed.
The Americans may be as vigilant as they please, but they cannot be vigilant enough for the
Lord, neither can they hide themselves, where he will not find and bring them out. 13
AMH2092 OER: African American History and Culture
Module 6: Primary Resource Document
(1) Content by Florida State College at Jacksonville is licensed under CC BY 4.0
(13) David Walker, Walker’s Appeal (Boston: David Walker, 1830) taken from is in the Public Domain.
Creating An African-American Culture
Module Introduction
People express cultural meaning through their language, food, sacred and secular rites, ceremonies, rituals, art,
music, dance, personal adornment, celebrations and many other socio-cultural customs and practices. (3)
Despite slavery’s strictures, African Americans created their own unique culture and cultural identity,
particularly through language and religion, during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
This module explores how black people created an African American culture and identity, how they used
language, literacy, religion, and music, such as spirituals, hymns, and hollers, to navigate and resist a
dehumanizing slave system and strengthen the bonds of their communities. (1)
Learning Outcomes
This module addresses the following Course Learning Outcomes listed in the Syllabus for this course:

To provide students with a general understanding of the history of African Americans within the context
of American History.

To motivate students to become interested and active in African American history by comparing current
events with historical information.(1)
Additional learning outcomes associated with this module are:

The student will be able to discuss the origins, evolution, and spread of racial slavery.

The student will be able to describe the creation of a distinct African-American culture and how that
culture became part of the broader American culture. (1)
Module Objectives
Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

Discuss the role of language and religion as they relate to the creation of a unique African American

Analyze the roles of language and religion in shaping cultural identities in America today. (1)
For the first generations of Africans enslaved in the colonies, language accommodation and acculturation were a
necessity for their survival in the Western world. Depending upon when and where they came from in Africa, in
addition to their own languages, different African people had varying degrees of language competence in
English, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. As a result of trade with the Portuguese in the middle fifteenth
century, bilingualism arose among West Africans along the coast. In succeeding centuries, as West Africans
traded with the Dutch, French and English, some Africans continued to at least understand, and many to speak,
some form of one or more European languages. Even though they spoke many different African languages,
many Africans who had participated in long distance trading on the African continent spoke a “lingua franca” or
trade language that allowed them to communicate among themselves (Abrahams 1983:26). African sailors on
European vessels may have also spoken a “maritime jargon” (Berlin 1998; Birmingham 1981; McWhorter
1997, 2000a). The first generations of Africans and Europeans who came into contact with one another, like all
people of different language groups, spoke their own language and developed apidgin , language. Pidgins
included words and meaning from both languages that allowed them to communicate.
Over time, both Africans and Europeans communicated in some form of creole . People of Angola and West
Central Africa developed Angolar Creole Portuguese , a language still spoken by descendants of maroon slaves
who escaped from Portuguese plantations on São Tomé beginning in the middle sixteenth century. People who
were enslaved by the Spanish developed Spanish-based creoles, called Papiamentu Creole
Spanish .Palenquero is another Spanish creole developed by Africans in maroon settlements of what is now
Colombia, South America. Enslaved Africans in New Netherlands, later New York, developed a Dutch-based
creole, Negerhollands Creole Dutch , in Haiti and later in Louisiana people spoke a French-based creole, today
called Haitian Creole French . In the English colonies Africans spoke an English-based Atlantic Creole ,
generally called plantation creole. Lowcountry Africans spoke an English-based creole that came to be
called Gullah . Gullah is a language closely related to Krio a creole spoken in Sierra Leone. (3)
Enslaved African American Language
Gullah and other creoles emerged because enslaved Africans greatly outnumbered whites on colonial
plantations as occurred in the Lowcountry, especially on the sea islands where Gullah developed. John
McWhorter, a linguist, advances an “ Afrogenesis Theory ” of creole origins, stressing the importation of most
plantation creoles from West African trade settlements. There creole languages originated in interactions
between white traders and slaves, some of whom were eventually transported overseas (McWhorter 2000a,
2000b). The Afrogenesis Theory helps explain whyGullah and Krio are similar creoles.
Historian Lorena Walsh notes that, “ Gullah ,” attained creole status during the first decades of the 1700s, and
was learned and used by the second generation of slaves as their mother tongue. Around the same time, in the
1720 and 1730s, Anglican clergy were still reporting that Africans spoke little or no English but stood around in
groups talking among themselves in “strange languages (Walsh 1997:96–97).”
In the past, enslaved Africans from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida along the coast and
100 miles inland spoke Gullah . In the present, many of the descendants of the early Gullah speakers continue
to speak a form of the language (Hancock 1992:70–72; Geraty 1997). African American heritage preservation
efforts in the sea islands include attempts to maintain Gullah as a living language.
Runaway advertisements noted enslaved people’s distinctive language characteristics and level of language
proficiency as identifiers. A search of runaway advertisements 1736–1776 in the Virginia Gazette,
Williamsburg, Virginia yielded advertisements for five men described as “Angola negroes” or born in Angola.
Two could speak very good English, two “ speak English tolerably good ” and one was described as
stammering. Two advertisements identified “Eboe negroe.” One could “speak tolerable good English.” Jemmy,
John and Boston in this image illustrate the range of English language competency among African-born men in
eighteenth century Virginia.
As part of a more extensive study of comments on language found in runaways advertisements in eight colonies
and, later, states, historian Michael Gomez examined the quality of English spoken by 99 Africans in Virginia
from 1736 to 1836. He found that the advertisement’s descriptions said 39 Africans spoke “none, little or very
little, 36 spoke “bad,” “very bad” or “broken” English and 24 spoke “good” or very good” English (1998:177–
Figure 5-1: Virginia Gazette (Rind), Williamsburg, November
30, 1769 by Virginia Gazette is in the Public Domain .An
advertisement published by a subscriber looking for one of his
runaway slaves named Bristol.
According to Gomez, those African runaways 30 years of age or
older or who had been in North America more than 3 years were
most likely to speak good English. Like the Virginia Africans,
over 70 percent of Africans running away from South Carolina,
Georgia were also described as speaking “bad, very bad, very
little, or no English.” Among Louisiana runaways, they were
about equally divided between those who could speak French and
those that could not. Gomez found the few women in the study were slightly more likely than the men to speak
French or English (1998:179).
Many enslaved people were multi-lingual. “Without a doubt,” historian Philip Morgan contends, “blacks were
the most linguistically polyglot and proficient ethnic group in the Americas (2002:139).”
The continuous arrival of new African slaves influenced the language spoken by American-born Africans in the
rural colonial Chesapeake and Lowcountry regions up until 1807. Even after this date, smugglers sold Africans
in the region, right up until the Civil War (Kashif 2001). In contrast, many free African Americans in the
southern colonies became more acculturated in speech and literate, along with all other European cultural
customs, as they consciously sought to differentiate themselves from their enslaved sisters and brothers. (3)
Spiritual Life: Public & Secret
Along with language, black people also created a unique African American culture through religious expression
and practices. By the eighteenth century, many of the people brought from West Central African to be enslaved
in the Americas were familiar if not converted to Catholicism. Before the American Revolution most black
Catholics lived in Maryland and in the areas that were to become Florida and Louisiana. In the American
colonies controlled by Catholic powers—the Portuguese, Spanish and French—African slaves were baptized as
Christians from the earliest days of slavery. But in the British-controlled Protestant colonies, planters showed
little interest in converting their slaves. Many feared that to accept slaves as Christians was to acknowledge that
“Negroes” were entitled to rights accorded other Christians—a dangerous message as far as
they were concerned.
As early as 1654, the English made provisions for “negro” servants to receive religious instruction and
education. Some planters made provisions in their will that their “negro servants be freed, that they should be
taught to read and write, make their own clothes and be brought up in the fear of God.” By 1770, it had become
the duty of masters acquiring free “negro children as apprenticed to agree to teach them reading, writing and
arithmetic” (Russell [1913] 1969:138).
Despite owner opposition, and the inability of some Africans to speak or understand English, by 1724 Anglican
clergymen had established small groups of African converts to Protestant Christianity in a number of parishes in
Virginia and Maryland. Their greatest success was in Bruton parish, Williamsburg, eight miles north of Carter’s
Grove, where approximately 200 Africans were baptized.
The slaves who lived at Carter’s Grove apparently chose to attend Bruton Parish church over other Anglican
churches located nearer to their homes and attended by the Burwell Family. Although the journey to
Willamsburg was longer it was also an occasion when they could meet with friends or relatives from Bray and
Kingsmill Farm or other surrounding plantations or farms (Russell [1913] 1969:138). In the last half of the
eighteenth century 1,122 “negro-baptisms were recorded” in Bruton Parish by the Anglican church (Wilson
The motivation for attending church was as likely to be a rare chance to meet without fear of planter
intervention as it was spiritual. Christians came from different generation groups and were as likely to be field
hands as they were to be domestic servants in the great houses. Christians included Africans and native-born
African Virginians. For some, the motivation was a reward of larger food rations or additional clothing. For
others it was an opportunity to learn to read.
South Carolinian colonists were the first to make systematic efforts to Christianize enslaved Africans and
African Americans in the early eighteenth century. Anglicans believed literacy was essential. As Anglican
missionaries reached out to enslaved Africans in South Carolina and Georgia they tried to teach at least a few to
read. Planters were hostile to the idea of slave literacy. They resisted by passing a law in 1734 that slaves could
not leave the plantation on “Sundays, fast days, and holy days without a ticket,” that is a pass. Fears of
insurrections led by literate slaves, such as the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina, resulted in passage of the
New Negro Act of 1740, which curtailed the missionaries’ freedom to teach slaves to read and write English. In
spite of the law, Alexander Garden, an Anglican missionary, established the Charleston Negro School in 1743.
The school lasted twenty years. Garden purchased and taught two African American boys to read and write and
they became teachers of others. Over the next four years Garden graduated forty “scholars.” At its peak in 1755,
the school enrolled seventy African American children. This was a miniscule number considering there were
about 50,000 Africans and African Americans in the colony. It was, however, a start (Frey 1991:20–24).
Figure 5-2: DE Unitas Fractum Bild 04 by David
Cranz is in the Public Domain .A 1757 drawing
titled, “Exorcism-Baptism of the Negroes,” that
shows African American slaves being baptized in a
Moravian Church in North Carolina.
Other Protestant sects also reached out to African
slaves in southern colonies. The Presbyterians
established a church on Edisto Island, South
Carolina between 1710 and 1720. Thirty years later,
Moravians, mostly missionaries to American
Indians, established a North Carolina church that
received African slaves into the congregation.
During the first Great Awakening of the 1740s,
itinerant Baptist and Methodist preachers spread the Gospel into slave communities. The Baptists and
Methodists did not insist on a well-educated clergy. They believed true preachers were called and anointed by
the spirit of God, not groomed in institutions of higher learning. If a converted slave demonstrated a call to
preach, he could potentially preach to both black and white audiences. Consequently, African American slaves
tended to most often join or attend Baptist and Methodist
churches. (Raboteau 1978:133–134; Creel 1988; 78–
80). (3) The first independent African American churches that
slaves established in the 1770s were a part of the Baptist
denomination: Silver Bluff Baptist Church in South Carolina,
First Baptist Church of Petersburg, Virginia, and First
African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia. (1)
Family Worship in a Plantation in South Carolina (page
561) by unknown is in the Public Domain .From THE
ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS , December 5, 1863, p. 561.
A recording of a prayer from a Baptist church in
Livingston, Alabama (1939)
Prayer by John A. Lomax (Collector) has no known copyright restrictions. (8)
Additional link to audio.
Public and Secret Religious Experience
The first Great Awakening accelerated the spread of Christianity and a Christian culture among African
Americans. The Presbyterians launched the first sporadic revivals in the 1740s. Baptist revivals began in the
1760s followed ten years later by the Methodists. With religious conversion came education for the enslaved, at
least education to read the Bible. By 1771, itinerant African American Baptist preachers were conducting
services, sometimes secretly, in and around Williamsburg, Virginia.
Aside from the names of a small number of runaway slaves who were described as fond of preaching or singing
hymns, many of the early African American preachers remain anonymous. The few names in the historical
record were men of uncommon accomplishments in organizing churches, church schools, and mutual aid
societies in the South and as missionaries in Jamaica and Nova Scotia. All were born into slavery in Virginia.
All were Baptists. George Liele, born in 1737 was the first African American ordained as a Baptist minister. He
preached to whites and slaves on the indigo and rice plantations along the Savannah River in Georgia. He was
freed during the Revolutionary War in the will of his owner. Liele was forced to flee with the British to Jamaica
in order to escape re-enslavement by his owner’s heirs. Before he left, he baptized several converts, including
Reverend Andrew Bryan, who would continue his work in Georgia and as missionaries extend it abroad.
“Our brother Andrew was one of the black hearers of George Liele, … prior to the departure of George
Liele for Jamaica, he came up the Tybee River … and baptized our brother Andrew, with a wench of the
name of Hagar, both belonging to Jonathon Bryan, Esq.; these were the last performances of our Brother
George Liele in this quarter, About eight or nine months after his departure, Andrew began to exhort his
black hearers, with a few whites… (Letters showing the Rise of Early Negro Churches 1916:77–78)
Liele also baptized David George, a Virginia runaway. These men, and others, formed the nucleus of slaves
who were organized by a white preacher as the Silver Bluff Baptist Church between 1773 and 1775. George
began to preach during the Revolutionary War, but later fled with the British to Nova Scotia where he
established the second Baptist church in the province (Frey 1991:37–39).
In 1782, Andrew Bryan organized a church in Savannah that was certified in the Baptist Annual Register in
1788 as follows:
“This is to certify, that upon examination into the experiences and characters of a number of Ethiopians,
and adjacent to Savannah it appears God has brought them out of darkness into the light of the gospel…
This is to certify, that the Ethiopian church of Jesus Christ, have called their beloved Andrew to the work
of the ministry….” (Letters showing the Rise of Early Negro Churches 1916:78).
As the eighteenth century ended, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah erected its first building. By
1800, Bryan’s congregation had grown to about 700, leading to a reorganization that created the First Baptist
Church of Savannah. Fifty of Bryan’s adult members could read, having been taught the Bible and the Baptist
Confession of Faith. First African Baptist established the first black led Sunday school for African Americans,
and Henry Francis, who had been ordained by Bryan, operated a school for Georgia’s black children. (3)
Cultural Resistance: “Gimmee” That Old Time Religion!
Not all Africans and African Americans embraced Christianity, however. Some resisted by retaining their native
African spiritual practices or their Islamic faith. Historians point out that a number of Africans who arrived in
America were Muslims and that they never relinquished their faith in Islam.
There is relatively little historical documentation on eighteenth century enslaved Muslims in North America
making discussion of them less conclusive than that about enslaved Africans who were Christians or who
practiced indigenous traditional African religions. Some scholars believe that perhaps as many as 10% of
Africans enslaved in North America between 1711 and 1715 were Muslims and that the majority probably were
literate (Deeb 2002).
Islam was firmly established as a religion in Ancient Mali as early as the fourteenth century. As in other parts of
the world, Islamic conversion occurred through trade and migration far more often than by force. In West
Africa, prior to the eighteenth century, much of this conversion occurred through interaction of West Africans
with Berber traders who controlled the trans-Saharan trade routes. From the early seventeenth century through
the late eighteenth century, the influence of Islam spread among the people in many parts of the Senegambia
region, the interior of Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and as far south as the Bight of Benin.
According to historian Michael Gomez, the widespread influence of Islam in West Africa makes it highly likely
that the numbers of Muslim Africans enslaved was probably in the thousands (1998:86). The recurrence of
Muslim names among American-born Africans running away from enslavement in eighteenth century South
Carolina offers some evidence of Muslim people’s presence and their efforts to continue their faith
(Gomez 1998:60).
Historian Sylviane A. Diouf estimates at least 100,000 Africans brought to the Americas were Muslims,
including political and religious leaders, traders, students, Islamic scholars, and judges. In some cases, these
enslaved African Muslims were more educated than their American masters. According to Diouf, the captivity
of several of the notable Muslim slaves who left narratives of their experiences grew out of complex religious,
political, and social conflicts in West Africa after the disintegration of the Wolof Empire. Diouf argues, the
religious principles and practices of African Muslims, including their literacy, made them resistant to
enslavement and promoted their social differentiation from other enslaved Africans. As slaves, they were
prohibited from reading and writing and had no ink or paper. Instead they used wood tablets and organic plant
juices or stones to write with. Some wrote, in Arabic, verses of the Koran they knew by heart, so as not to forget
how to write. According to Diouf, Arabic was used by slaves to plot revolts in Guyana, Rio de Janeiro and
Santo Domingo because the language was not understood by slave owners. Manuscripts in Arabic of maps and
blueprints for revolts also have been found in North America, Jamaica and Trinidad (Diouf 1998).
Diouf contends many enslaved Muslims went to great efforts to preserve the pillars of Islamic ritual because it
allowed them “to impose a discipline on themselves rather than to submit to another people’s discipline”
(1998:162). Diouf identifies references in the historical literature of slavery to the persistence of Islamic cultural
practices among enslaved Muslims such as the wearing of turbans, beards, and protective rings; the use of
prayer mats, beads, and talismans ( gris-gris ); and the persistence of Islamic dietary customs. For
Diouf, saraka cakes cooked on Sapelo Island in Georgia were probably associated with sadakha or meritorious
alms offered in the name of Allah. She speculates that the circular ring shout performed in Sea Island praise or
prayer houses might have been a recreation of the Muslim custom of circumambulation of the Kaaba during the
pilgrimage in Mecca. Arabic literacy, according to Diouf, generated powers of resistance because it served as a
resource for spiritual inspiration and communal organization, “A tradition of defiance and rebellion
Priests of African traditional religions also often continued to hold their beliefs. Even though over time the
majority of Africans and African Americans became Christians, African Christianity and church rituals often
incorporated African beliefs and rituals. Some scholars suggest that Africans readily acculturated to
Christianity, especially those from West Central Africa, because of prior exposure to Christianity. Old ways
died hard and some never died out. Historian John Thornton points out that none of the Christian movements in
the Kongo brought about a radical break with Kongo religious or ideological past. Instead African Christianity
simply emphasized already active tendencies in the worldview of the Kongo people (Thornton 1983:62–63).
Figure 5-4: Kongo Crucifix by Cliff1066 is licensed under CC
BY 2.0 .Image of a seventeenth century crucifix made by
Portuguese missionaries that combines the Kongo custom of
using scepters and staffs as emblems of power with the
representation of Christ as an African.
One of the central beliefs of the Kongo, for example, emphasizes
that human beings move through existence in counterclockwise
circularity like the movement of the sun, coming into life or
waking up in the east, grow to maturity reaching the height of
their powers in the north, die and pass out of life in the west into
life after death in the south then come back in the east being born
again (Fu-Kiah 1969; Thompson 1984; McGaffey 1986). Many
West African groups believe in life after death and some believes
that people are reborn in their descendants. These ideas, although
in a different context, blended well with Christian beliefs in life
after death and with the Christian belief being born again. 3
Performing Culture in Music & Dance
Not only did African Americans often blend traditional West
African spirituality with Christian beliefs, they also wove
together West African rhythms, shouts, and melodies with
European American tunes to create spiritual songs drawn from images and stories found in Bible. African
Americans also put their own unique cultural and musical stamp on a style of hymn singing called lined-out
hymnody. Lined-out hymn singing has roots in sixteenth and seventeenth century England and Scotland.
Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian missionaries taught lining out to slaves and poor whites in the South where
literacy was low and hymnbooks were few. Taken together, African American spirituals and hymns represent a
profound cultural expression and contribution that laid the foundation for future forms of American music
including the blues, soul, jazz, and even rock n’ roll and hip-hop.
African American spiritual songs took a variety of forms including shouts, anthems, and jubilees. “Styles
ranged from the exciting tempo and rhythmic stamp of the shout to the slow, drawn-out ‘sorrow songs’ which
usually come to mind when the spirituals are mentioned,” observes historian Albert J. Raboteau. “While the
lyrics and themes of the spirituals were drawn from Biblical verses and Christian hymns, and although the
music and melodies were strongly influenced by the sacred and secular songs of white Americans, the style in
which the slaves sang the spirituals was African.” (Raboteau, 74). The influence of West Africa could be heard
in the spirituals’ call-and-response form, syncopated rhythms, and the use of “blue” notes, which are tones in
the major and pentatonic scale that are “bent” into minor tones. African Americans also demonstrated their
West African heritage in their body movements, including hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and dance.
(Darden, 2004) (1)
The Ring Shout
The heritage of West Africa found perhaps its fullest expression in the spiritual form called the ring shout,
which seemed to thrive on the sea islands of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The ring shout combines
singing or shouting stories from the Bible with a religious form of dance that resembles shuffling. In a religious
setting, the shouters shuffle and stomp in a counterclockwise motion while clapping their hands to the shout’s
rhythm. Some African American slaves believed the ring shout was a central part of worship, often a
prerequisite to receiving the spirit or having a conversion experience. The ring shout, argues Raboteau, was thus
a “two-way bridge connecting the core of West African religions—possession by the gods—to the core of
evangelical Protestantism—experience of conversion.” (Raboteau, 73)
During the Civil War, William Francis Allen, a northern educator, heard the religious singing of newly freed
slaves while in the Low Country of South Carolina. He later helped edit and publish the first collection of
African American religious songs in American history, Slave Songs of the United States . In an 1867 article
in The Nation , Allen described the ring shout in the following manner:
“…the true ‘shout’ takes place on Sundays or on ‘praise’ nights through the week, and either in the
praise-house or in some cabin in which a regular religious meeting has been held… The benches are
pushed back to the wall when the meeting is over, and old and young men and women… boys… young
girls barefooted, all stand up in the middle of the floor, and when the [spiritual] is struck, begin first
walking and by-and-by shuffling round, one after the other, in a ring. The foot is hardly taken from the
floor, and the progression is mainly due to a jerking, hitching motion, which agitates the entire shouter,
and soon brings out streams of perspiration. Sometimes they dance silently, sometimes as they shuffle
they sing the chorus of the spiritual, and sometimes they song itself is also sung by the dancers…. Song
and dance alike are extremely energetic, and often, when the shout lasts into the middle of the night, the
monotonous thud, thud, thud of feet prevents sleep within half a mile of the praise-house… It is not
unlikely that this remarkable religious ceremony is a relic of some African dance…” (Allen quoted
in Rabotaeu, 71)
During the 1930s, the folklorists Alan and John Lomax, found evidence of the ring shout still practiced in
Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and the Bahamas, and versions of it in Haiti. (Rabotaeu, 1978, 70) The ring shout is
still performed today by the descendants of slaves, particularly in McIntosh County, Georgia. Versions of the
ring shout can also be seen today in some African American Primitive Baptist churches in Georgia and Florida.
Congregants often sing spirituals during the offering portion of the service and some will move toward the front
of church and “rock” counter-clockwise around the communion table while singing old spirituals like
“Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” (1)
Lined-Out Hymns
As Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian missionaries spread the gospel during the eighteenth and nineteenth
century, including into African American slave communities, they brought with them hymns composed by
English hymn writers such as Issac Watts, William Cowper, and Charles Wesley. In many poor white and slave
communities, church attendees could not read or afford hymnbooks. As a result, missionaries taught church
congregations the practice of lining out hymns. Lining out involved a preacher or deacon standing before a
congregation and reading the first lines of a hymn from a hymnbook or speaking them from memory. The
congregation, which most likely did not have hymnbooks or were usually unable to read them if they did, would
hear the lines intoned by the presenter and then respond by singing them, often very slowly, to a familiar tune
that fit the hymn’s meter. The practice of lining out originated in England following the Protestant Reformation
and spread to Scotland and then North America where the Puritans lined out the Psalms from their Bay Psalm
Book. Lining out quickly took hold among white and black Baptists in particular during the eighteenth century
and nineteenth century.
One slave master, and Presbyterian missionary, from Liberty County, Georgia, Charles Colcock Jones,
emphasized the importance of teaching hymns and psalms to slaves as way to dissuade them from singing the
“extravagant and nonsensical chants” and shouts “of their own composing.” Ironically, however, black slaves
used these European hymn and psalm texts to learn literacy. And by creating their own melodies, tunes, and
speech patterns when lining out the hymns, African Americans effectively “blackened” what was originally a
European form of singing. African American slaves in turn created a unique African American musical sound
and culture that became the bedrock of later secular genres such as the blues. (Dargan, 2006)
William Francis Allen, who described the ring shout tradition among African American slaves during the Civil
War, also provided one of the most detailed and evocative descriptions of lined-out hymn singing among slaves
during the same time period:
“I went to the Praise House in the Quarters…. They were just beginning a hymn, which the preacher
deaconed [lined] out, two lines at a time. The tune was evidently Old Hundred, which was maintained
throughout by one voice or another, but curiously varied at every note so as to form an intricate
intertwining of harmonious sounds. It was something very different from anything I ever heard, and no
description I have read conveys any notion of it. There were no parts properly speaking, only now and
then a hint of a base or tenor, and the modulation seemed to be just the inspiration of the moment—no
effort at regularity, only that one or two voices kept up the air—but the ears are so good, and the time is
so perfectly kept… that there was very seldom a discordant note. It might be compared to the notes of
an organ or orchestra, where all harmony is poured out in accompaniment of the air.” (Allen quoted
in Dargan, 112–13)
Lined-out hymns in the black church also became known as long meter hymns, metered hymns, or “Dr. Watts”
because of the large number of hymns penned by Issac Watts. Until the late twentieth century, lined-out hymns
were almost always sung a capella—that is with voices only and without musical accompaniment.
George Pullen Jackson, a folklorist and professor, visited black Primitive Baptist churches in Alabama and
Jacksonville, Florida in the 1940s and heard congregants still singing lined-out hymns, which he sometimes
called “surge songs,” with great power and beauty:
“The ‘long meter’ hymns (absolute opposites of the spirituals in every sense) are sung in thousands of
unspoiled [black] congregations usually, but not exclusively, at the opening of the service. A deacon or
the elder ‘lines out’ a couplet of the text in a sing-song voice and at a fair speaking pace ending on
definite tone. This ‘tones’ the tune. The deacon then starts singing, and by the time he has sung through
the elaborately ornamented first syllable the whole congregation has joined in on the second syllable
with a volume of florid sound which ebbs and flows slowly, powerfully and at times majestically in
successive surges until the lined-out words have been sung…. No instrument is ever used.” (Jackson,
The lined-out hymn singing tradition still thrives in some black churches, particularly in Missionary and
Primitive Baptist congregations. Black Primitive Baptists maintain the strongest tradition, however. They sing
numerous hymns from their hymnbook, The Primitive Hymns, which contains only texts and no musical
notations, during all parts of their church services. The Primitive Baptists also draw from the deepest well of
hymn tunes, which have been passed down orally over many generations. Primitive Baptist associations in
states such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia also have their own unique hymn tunes
and rhythms while sharing the same hymn texts and manner of lining out. (1)
Below are two examples of lined-out hymns:
Go Preach My Gospel by John A. Lomax (Collector) has no know copyright restrictions. (9)
Additional link to audio.
“Go preach my gospel,” saith the Lord, “Bid the whole earth my grace receive, Explain to them my
sacred word, Bid them believe, obey, and live.” “I’ll make my great commission known, And ye shall
prove my gospel true.
Jesus, My God, I Know His Name by John A. Lomax (Collector) has no know copyright restrictions. (10)
Additional link to audio.
Jesus, my God I know his name His name is on my soul He will not put my soul to shamebr Oh let my
holy Lord)
Black Secular Music
African Americans also created their own body of secular
songs during the trials of slavery. These included work songs
and hollers as well as drum rhythms and songs composed on
stringed instruments like banjos. Work songs helped to ease
the drudgery of plantation labor while hollers resembled
laments that provided emotional release or allowed slaves to
communicate covert messages that might spread from
plantation to plantation. These songs showed the individual
and collective creativity of black people and their desire to
create and maintain a sense of community and resist the
dehumanizing and destructive forces of slavery. (1)
Figure 5-5: Slave dance to banjo by Anonymous is in the Public Domain .The Old Plantation (anonymous
folk painting late 1700s). Depicts African-American slaves dancing to banjo and percussion
One example of how black people used music to create a sense of community is from Charleston, South
Carolina where African Americans would travel to rural areas to participate in countryside dances where they
danced all night. Slaves continued to hold countryside dances at night throughout the eighteenth century, even
after the Stono Rebellion in 1730 when slave dances were outlawed along with use or ownership of drums,
horns and other loud instruments (Morgan 1998:580–582).
Enslaved African Americans communicated with one another in hollers or calls derived from their musical
tradition of call and response. Callsare as musical ways “to communicate messages of all kinds-to bring people
in from the fields, to summon them to work, to attract the attention of a girl in the distance, to signal hunting
dogs, or simply to make one’s presence known Courlander 1963:81).” Calls convey simple messages, or merely
make one’s whereabouts known to friends working elsewhere in the fields. Many slave calls were modeled on
African drumming. Slaves also copied the drum rhythms by ‘patting juba.’ This procedure involved “foot
tapping, hand clapping, and thigh slapping, all in precise rhythm (Southern 1971:168).” Patting juba was
incorporated into an early twentieth century dance called the Charleston. This “Africanism,” reappeared in the
late twentieth century in the dance choreography of the Broadway musical “Bring on the Noise,
Bring on the Funk.”
African Americans also made and played banjos made out of gourds. The banjo is a musical instrument that
originated in Senegal and the Gambia region of West Africa. By the end of the eighteenth century banjos had
become the most common musical accompaniment used by Africans for their dances. The first mention of it in
North America is found in a 1749 account of a Christmas celebration of Africans from plantations along the
Cooper River playing the banjo, dancing and making merry (Ravitz 1960:384; Coolen 1984:117–132). This
famous watercolor painting The Old Plantation which portrays a slave dance in eighteenth century South
Carolina illustrates one slave playing a banjo and another beating a drum. The musical instruments and styles of
dress reveal the intertwining of influences from African and Europe.
Enslaved Africans learned to play European instruments as well. “A black Virginia born Negro fellow named
Sambo,” who ran away in 1766, was a carpenter who made fiddles and played them. Gabriel, a weaver by
trade…is fond of reading and plays well the violin,” so said his owner in a 1776 newspaper advertisement
seeking his capture and return. A number of these advertisements for runaway musicians also note that they
could read and some could write well enough to have possibly forged a pass. Other runaways were drawn to a
different kind of cultural performance in the Christian church. Jemmy, a dark mulatto man was fond of singing
hymns, Jupiter alias Gibb was a “great New Light preacher.” Charles, a sawyer and shoemaker by trade also
“reads tolerable well, and is a great preacher, from which I…[his owner]…imagine he will endeavour [sic] to
pass for a freeman (Virginia Runaways, 2004; Jupiter, October 1, 1767; Charles, October 27, 1765; Jemmy,
September 8, 1775).” (3)
The creation of a unique African American culture through language and religion not only allowed black people
to resist the brutality of slavery and create a cohesive sense of community, it also helped spark an abolitionist
movement in America. In the second half of the eighteenth century, following the spread of evangelical
Christianity during and after the Great Awakening, runaway slaves, such as Jemmy, Gibb, and Charles,
embodied important characteristics of a new African American culture, including religion and music, and, it
seems, drew from them the inspiration and courage to flee bondage for freedom.
In the nineteenth century, black abolitionists, including David Walker, Frederick Doulgass, Nat Turner, and
Sojourner Truth, used their literacy, language and religion to make forceful pleas for the humanity of black
people and the immediate end of slavery. They became the vanguard of the most radical abolitionist movement
in American history. (1)

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