Negro Spirituals

Their Way Out


African Americans utilized negro spirituals a lot during their times of enslavement. They used this form of music to communicate with other slaves and encourage each other during their times of trauma. Many times, negro spirituals were the only things that got African Americans through their day. This particular music was their way to expresses their emotions of bondage. Enslaved people utilized Negro Spirituals as their way out of bondage.

A Famous Negro Spiritual

The Meaning of the Song


Because many slaves knew the secret meanings of negro spirituals, they could be used to signal many things. For example, Harriet Tubman used the song “Wade in the Water” to tell escaping slaves to get off the trail and into the water to make sure the dogs slave masters used, couldn’t sniff out their trail. People walking through water did not leave a scent trail that dogs could follow. Sometimes she had to leave a group she was leading north to get food or other needed items. She would tell them to hide and wait for her signal. If she came back and sang one song two times, they would know it was safe to come out of hiding. Every song had a significant meaning. 


Negro Spirituals were important for enslaved people because they developed a significant connection with the purposes of the songs. Enslaved people used these songs as signals. For example, the Virginia slave Nat Turner, who organized a revolt against slave owners, used the song “Steal Away” as a signal to call people together to talk about their plans. Even during their turmoil, black people used their conditions to create words that give them hope. 

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