How Hope Prevailed in the Face of Slavery

Introduction

Life for enslaved Africans was a complete turnaround from life in the motherland of Africa. However, the strength to stay courageous in the face of inhumane treatment and the ability to resist the white overseers were strong. One would question how this came to be in there was no understanding of the driving forces behind the Africans’ strength and courageousness. Black people relied heavily on music and their newfound hope in Christ to survive the inhumane situations they faced on a daily basis.

Music Becomes the Work

While working on plantations, it was necessary to keep spirits up, and one of the main forms of doing so was through the work song. The work song was more than just a tune to keep one’s mind busy during the day; it was made utilizing specific emphasis on every other beat so that those at work were able to do so with a beat. As the scholar, Olly Wilson puts it, “The process of chopping wood becomes an intrinsic part of the music, wherein the work becomes the music, and the music becomes the work.”

"...The work becomes the music, and the music becomes the work."

The Guiding Light of Christ

Many of these work songs had a deeper meaning than what was heard at the surface- these work songs were songs of resistance, tribulations, hope, and faithfulness. The messages derived from the Gospel because many evangelists came to the Africans to preach about Christ. Although the white overseers supposedly practiced the same religion, the enslaved were able to see through their lies and get to the core of Christianity. In the documentary, This Far by Faith, one scholar notes, “Black people didn’t assume the Christianity of their oppressors. The Christianity they assumed was one they created, re-evaluated, and reconfigured to fit their needs.” 

This is explicitly seen in the example below, “Steal Away to Jesus.” While acknowledging the current pain and suffering, the author also realizes that this is not their end and that the Lord is their freedom and hope. Even in the face of danger, cruelty, and other horrors brought on by slavery, hope and perseverance remained due to the Black people’s music and faith.

Steal away, steal away,
Steal Away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home;
I ain't got long to stay here.
My Lord, He calls me;
He calls me by the thunder.
The trumpet sounds within my soul;
I ain't got long to stay here

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