Spiritual Music: Negro Spiritual History

Negro Spirituals The Music of Faith

Many are now embracing a spiritual music and a belief system that has brought them through difficult times. In the past there was a conflict with the religion slave holders taught. The reason is many blacks were questioning their strategically flawed version of the theology which was used to enslave, oppress, steal & rape. It was the oppressors personal belief system based on hatred  rather than a fact based historical and spiritual teaching that was backed by a well documented historical book ( Bible) about a certain people. Upon further exploration into the  origins and music that originated from this belief system exposes many things. So let me go a little further into this subject. I found it extremely interesting. 

Origins of Spiritual Music

Wikipedia talks about the beginnings of negro music spirituals. The concept of singing spirituals can be found in the King James Bible. Again, this is very intriguing in the fact the bible was used a means of control during slavery when the origins of spiritual music began. In the New Testament, they are referred to as “hymns” and “psalms.”

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

And Ephesians 5:19 says, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

Slaves were not allowed to speak their original language. Being found doing so could cost your life, a limb, or a family member.  They were forced to convert to a Eurocentric Christianity, which taught the slaves a European image of God, and used scriptures that spoke specifically about obeying masters and such. This included the making of a Jesus with European features.

A lot of the original spiritual were based on Christian psalms and hymns. The foundation was overcoming the odds, staying faithful and believing that we would overcome.  

As I continued to dig, I found more interesting nuggets. Before the Crusades, the images of Jesus and the early Christians found in Europe were all dark skinned with black or African features. During the Crusades, soldiers (crusaders) refused to kill the enemy (who were darker skinned) because they would report that they looked like God! This was the beginning of the European Jesus, which was a strategic misrepresentation to remove the emotional connection of the true image of God in the flesh versus what they needed (European Jesus) to control the minds of all people, both white and black.

(An even more interesting note: the Ten Commandments forbids creating and worshipping an image of God. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” This is found in Exodus 20:4.)

Colossians 3:22 was used quite often to defend slavery, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God;”

It must be noted that the Black slaves were not allowed to read or write in addition to speak their language of origin. This is how negro spiritual music songs about freedom began. This seems to go against the idea that the bible was the slave master’s religion. If that were true, the bible would have been embraced and taught in its entirety. The story of Moses leading the Hebrew Israelites out of captivity would have been embraced. The specific scripture in Deuteronomy which says the Hebrews will go into another time of bondage would have been highlighted.

Deuteronomy 28:68 says, “And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you.”

If the Bible were the slave master’s religion, they would have been OK with teaching the prophetic words of Isaiah 13:11 that speak directly to those that do the very types of deeds they themselves(slave masters and bystanders) were doing, “Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.”

Proverbs 11:21 says “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.”

Or Ecclesiastes 8:11, which speaks directly to the time given to evil deeds of slave holders and human rights violators, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.”

Or the scriptures that speak to those that stand by and make excuses for those that oppress and subjugate others. Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.”

This is not a theological lesson, but rather a small article on the power of music, its origins and how spiritual music and jazz, specifically songs about freedom, were developed. Ultimately music is for everyone and most importantly negro spiritual music will continue to uplift, inspire and encourage people of all races, creeds, religions and backgrounds. 

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