Negro Spirituals and Civil Rights

By Claire Jackson

Over 400 years ago, in 1619, the first Africans set foot in the Americas after being forced into enslavement. 170 years later, enslaved people made up nearly 33% of the Georgia population alone, and nearly 18% of all the colonies.

Because America was so dependent on enslaved labor, the African Americans were forced to work from all day, every day. To remain strong and resilient, they sometimes turned to music.

The music was a way to convey feelings of struggle and hardship, as well as a way to have a unifying tool to connect over in this horrific situation. The music was created orally as well, nothing was written down and recorded for future reference.

While the belief is that many of these songs would be sorrowful and painful, many of them speak of strength and perseverance. Music was their weapon against the white oppressor, because it was practically the only thing that could not be taken away by slave masters.

For example, the song “Oh Freedom” showcases strong elements of resilience.


The song “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” is an example of Christian influence and the want for spiritual growth.


Many Negro Spirituals were sang by protestors and marchers during the civil rights movement 300 years later, because the meanings behind the words still resonated with the generation of African Americans and was a connection to the ancestors. Truly, it was a tool used to remain strong in the face of adversity.

The legacy of Negro Spirituals and the influence it has on the African American community today is one that is very prominent. Songs are sampled in popular music, and the lyrics are still utilized to fill people with strength and resilience. Young people are still learning the history of their ancestors through these Spirituals, and feeling the power and perseverance that kept them going through these troubling times.

Works Cited

Terrell, Ross. “From Slavery To Civil Rights: The Legacy Of Negro Spirituals In Georgia.” Georgia Public Broadcasting,

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