Category: slavery

  • Back (and Forth) to Africa

    As Michael Rosenwald observes in the Washington Post, the recent eruption of the disquieting chant “Send her back!” has a long history. Read the article and all the links. In 1972, singer-songwriter Randy Newman wrote an ironic song from the perspective of an eighteenth-century slave merchant trying to convince a little boy on the west […]

  • Blackberry Fool

    In 2015, acclaimed children’s book author Emily Jenkins and Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Sophie Blackall published A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat. The book, named a “Best Illustrated Children’s Book” by the New York Times, was described by the publisher as: a fascinating picture book in which four families, in four different […]

  • Love and Theft, redux: “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”

    Content warning: racist language/imagery. In 2019, the Yankees cancelled their tradition of playing Kate Smith’s stentorian recording of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch. Taking their cue from New York, the NHL team the Philadelphia Flyers not only cancelled Kate Smith, but also covered (and later removed) a statue of her outside of the […]

  • Barbados

    On the new album Our Native Daughters, featuring Rhiannon Giddens, Amethyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell (above), there is a banjo tune titled “Barbados,” believed to be the first western notation of a slave song in the new world. The melody was transcribed by one D.W. Dickson in Barbados in the 18th century. Giddens […]

  • We Shall Overcome

    The Library of Congress describes the famous Civil Rights Movement song, “We Shall Overcome”: It was the most powerful song of the 20th century. It started out in church pews and picket lines, inspired one of the greatest freedom movements in U.S. history, and went on to topple governments and bring about reform all over […]

  • Ragtime

    TW/CW: Racist imagery and lyrics. One of the earliest published songs that uses a ragtime style, Rollin Howard’s “Good Enough” (1871). The chorus, marked “Dance” (at 1:15) used a syncopated figure before going back into the straightforward on-the-beat verse section. This rhythmic figure is a bridge from the cakewalk to ragtime. The cakewalk was a […]

  • Glory, Glory

    (U.S. Marines attack John Brown’s encampment at the Harper’s Ferry armory in West Virginia, 1859.) John Brown (1800-1859) was a radical abolitionist who believed that armed revolt was the only way to end slavery in the United States. He led a raid on the U.S. armory at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859, with the […]

  • Why, and What, Did the Slaves Sing?

    Content warning: racist, disturbing language and imagery. The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and […]