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.
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

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.