News / Arts & Entertainment

Songs Against Slavery Used as Tool for Abolition

The cover of this sheet-music for "The Fugitive's Song" shows a fictionalized and inaccurate version of the escape from slavery of Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), who actually fled by ship.
The cover of this sheet-music for "The Fugitive's Song" shows a fictionalized and inaccurate version of the escape from slavery of Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), who actually fled by ship.
TEXT SIZE - +
Richard Paul
December 18, 2013, was the 149th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States.  The fight to end slavery did not begin with the American Civil War.  For more than 80 years before then, people used the tools at their disposal to fight for and against the enslavement of African-Americans.  One of those tools was music.

When the United States became a nation, African slaves weren’t just picking cotton in Alabama.  They were also cleaning houses in Pennsylvania and tending bar in New York City.  But by the early 1800s, Northern states largely outlawed the practice and were pressing the South to do the same.

Songs Against Slavery Used as Tool for Abolition
Songs Against Slavery Used as Tool for Abolitioni
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

“Get Off The Track”  was a song written and made famous by the most popular United States singing troupe of the 1840s and 1850s, the Hutchinson Family Singers.  Scott Gac wrote a book about the Hutchinson Family called “Singing for Freedom.”

x
“'Get Off The Track' is very much the soundtrack to the anti-slavery movement of the 1840s in the way that 'We Shall Overcome' was the song of the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement,” he said.

The Hutchinson Family became famous by attaching themselves to the American Anti-slavery Society, a church-based group that fought slavery in the courts.  They traveled the country, singing at Society meetings, selling sheet music for their songs and, Gac says, changing the way American reformers expressed themselves.

“The Hutchinson family singers don’t invent protest music, but what the Hutchinsons create, really as American singers they create the idea of a protest singer can make money,” Gac said.

As for those who were enslaved in the South, they were not able to protest slavery outright - they had no freedom.  But they are known to have sung songs like "Go Down Moses," songs that addressed their slavery.  

After the ratification of the 13th Amendment, African-Americans were - for the first time - allowed to start their own institutions of higher learning.  Many of these schools formed choirs who toured the U.S. not only to raise money, but also to do something else, according to Kip Lornell, a professor at George Washington University.

“To present black choral singing in such a way that white people who - most of whom had never heard black choral singing like this - could appreciate the fact that blacks were not just uneducated and unable to do anything but sing older spirituals and work songs, but in fact had created a bold body of important works,” he said.

It was a tradition that would be carried on well into the 20th century as African-Americans would use song to protest for Civil Rights.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Resigns

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

With over five million records sold worldwide, singer-songwriter MIKA is best known for his hit single “Grace Kelly.” MIKA joins "Border Crossings" to perform live and to talk with host Larry London about his latest CD “The Origin Of Love.”