Just pretend a moment—you a Southern slave in the early 1800s. You get a decent master, you treated reasonable. You a woman, you might nanny the young’uns, cook, sew, or be midwife. You a man, you work long and hard outdoors—farming, picking cotton, livestock—no matter how hot. You get a house, plenty corn and rice, and they don’t mind you God worshiping.
If Massa a bad man, you got no more rights than a broom. You just property. You do what you’re told or get whipped, branded, maybe killed. Your chill’uns or wife can be sold; you get raped, the law don’t help. Try running away, your foot might get cut off.
Sunday, though—your day off.
Slaves worshiped. They sang—songs reflecting their miserable lives and looking for Something Better.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin’ for t’ carry me home;
A band of angels comin’ after me,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUigewOnjFY Robert Robinson
I got shoes, you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes
When I get to Heaven goinna put on my shoes
I’m gonna walk all over God’s Heaven.
Soon a-will be done wit de troubles of de world
No more weepin’ and a-wailin’.
I want t’ meet my Jesus;
I’m goin’ t’ live with God.
My home is over Jordan.
Deep River Lord.
I want to cross over into campground.
Slavery—a terrible business, but it gave us heart songs.
DID YOU KNOW, THOUGH, that slavery is still Big Business? Today, this country alone has 400,000 slaves, with 45 million worldwide—forced labor, sex work, marriage, organ harvesting. Enough said. Sin hasn’t changed much over millennia, BUT our King of Heaven holds out redemption—or certain judgment.
You. You the slave of 1822—or of 2022. I see you with God’s eyes. He has a special mansion, a special banquet, with deep, healing love for all you Singers of Songs.
Jesus—Light in a very dark world. Your thoughts below, or email@example.com
Fix me, Jesus, fix me. Fix me for my starry crown. Fix me, Lord, for my journey home.
Fix me for my dying bed.
Fix me, Jesus!
I think that nothing justifies treating another human being so unjustly when we do turn to God in our sorrows he does comfort us
You got it, Chris! God used all that suffering to produce not only faith songs, but noble people like Harriet Tubman and her Underground Railroad, Booker T. Washington and his inventiveness, and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist.And many have followed in their footsteps.
Really, Ellie, you surprise me. I can’t believe you’d justify an institution like slavery because “Gospel music” came out of it. There are some evils that absolutely NO good comes of, and slavery is one of them.
Thanks much, Denis, for commenting. I agree with you that slavery in all its forms is totally evil. However, God has and does show up in terrible darkness, giving light and hope. Plantation slaves, even in their worst situations, still had Community where they could live together and bond in the singing of songs. The Gospel flourishes in situations like that. The Nazi gulags had remarkable bondings–the TenBoom women and Dietrich Bonhoeffer being notable leaders. Even today’s horrendous, multi-faceted slavery sometimes has God sightings. I heard one rescue person tell of sex slaves locked in a cell who trusted him—against all reason—because God had told one of the women that rescue would come that day. You may not believe in God, Denis, but people locked in horrible places recognize God’s presence and make”songs in the night.” The Black heroes of that earlier day were all people of faith, and they stand tall in my mind as monuments to the power of God to claim, change, and ultimately to save. Thank you, Denis, for caring deeply about this issue.
An interesting post; managed to push a few of my buttons. The expression “decent master” is one I can’t long reflect on without concluding it’s an oxymoron. And if I were to imagine myself a salve — unthinkable, really — I would hope to to be one with the intellect, rhetorical skills, and fierce dignity of Frederick Douglass. Not speaking the broken English that draws the tourists to black history. Still, I understand that your main point is to celebrate all the heartfelt music produced when when faith grappled with enormous and unjust suffering. Powerful and uplifting music. I would much rather live in a world where it had never needed to exist. In my view, this music wasn’t “slavery’s gift” to the world. It was God’s gift to the slaves. ” By reason of the multitude of oppressions they make the oppressed to cry: they cry out by reason of the arm of the mighty. But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night;” (Job 35:9-10). All the best to you, Ellie!
AMEN, John!You speak with authority are are absolutely right——both in my approach and in music being God’s gift to slaves. “Songs in the night” is an apt reference, but I don’t know of any such music coming out of today’s slavery that may arguably be far more evil, if that were possible. The world has never been without slavery, running the gamut from labor apprentices to sex-slave lockups and organ harvesting. There are Harriet Tubmans out there who today are risking their lives in complex rescues. The results are small, compared to the horrendous need, and only God’s judgment can have any real impact. May God help us to pray and care and align our lives to His purposes.