Gospel; Survival through Assimilation

Upon the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, all of our ancestors came to this new world with their own belief systems, deities, religions, and practices. From tribe to tribe, there were different rituals and prayers for harvest, rain, marriage, death, and more. We already came from an incredibly rich spiritual background. Of course, this New World didn’t appreciate these “demonic” and “savage” practices. So with no common language, religion, or traditions, we persevered. Sunday was our only day of rest. We could dance and sing and read. It was the time to harvest whatever small vegetables you could from your own plot, to fry up fish or whatever leftover meat we were allowed. For a lot of enslaved people, attending church was not a choice. You went because your ” master” demanded you did so, and that expectation wasn’t worth losing your life over. Despite being a proud Southerner with a longstanding familial history of church-going, I still have to recognize the ways European Christianity supported our ancestor’s enslavement and the ongoing respectability politics we encounter to this day. That being said, songs are in our blood. Music and dance are almost one and the same in Africanist traditions. Music is seen as an entity, rather than an avenue for expression. From Work Songs to Negro Spirituals which then evolved into Gospel hymns this pattern has always been present. To me, Church is cultural. It’s about the music and the comradery and the tradition of it all. It makes me feel like I’m connecting with my ancestors. Think about what it means to catch the holy ghost, it’s visceral, almost as if being possessed.

I think it’s just really interesting to analyze the subversive ways we have kept African culture alive within our own religious practices. Gospel is another vehicle for us to reckon with the state of the country we live in and to assert our own personhood. It’s been a gathering place, a catlyst for revolution and change and a constant reminder of the power of community. Even just thinking about how many amazing singers contemporary or otherwise got this start in the choir really speaks to the significance it holds to Black people.

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