Using Spirituality to Overcome Oppression

Throughout slavery there were many limitations and restrictions given to the enslaved people, for the most part they were only permitted to work. Surprisingly many of the slave masters allowed their slaves to attend church services to further convince the slaves that God wanted them to be enslaved. During this time, Christianity was used as an oppressive tool but the slaves did not believe the things they were told. These factors led to the creation of Negro Spirituals as one of the first signs of African influences on Western Christianity.

Negro spirituals originated out of the oppression of slavery and the emotional impact slavery had on enslaved Africans. In fact the earliest form of religious music within the African American community is the Negro Spiritual. Negro spirituals were typically sad songs that talked about the longing for freedom, either on earth or in heaven. The Negro spirituals spoke of the misery that the enslaved people faced in their daily lives and their desire to change their situations. Enslaved Africans typically sung Negro Spirituals during the work day and consisted mostly of call and response which allowed everyone working to take part.

Negro spirituals were created by various slaves that have never been given credit for their creations. The only money made from Negro Spirituals is when white people recorded the singing of Negro Spirituals and sold the music nationwide. The white people who recorded the music more than likely did not record exactly what they were hearing, but is the only written record of Negro Spirituals. Those same Negro Spirituals were performed post slavery by performers such as Marian Anderson who was a popular singer during the post slavery era.

The Negro spirituals that were sung hundreds of years ago are still a major part of worship in some churches even into the present day. Negro spirituals had a huge social impact because it was one of the trademarks of African American worship along with congregation participation and shouting. This still impacts African Americans today because many of the defining characteristics of the black church stems from the creation of Negro spirituals. The spirituals were created by Africans attempting to have their own version of Christianity.  Even after slavery, Negro spirituals still are relevant to African Americans today as we continue to face internalized racism in America.

By: Gabrielle Williams

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