Negro Spirituals in HBCUs- Ysa, Siya

Black Colleges and Black Christianity

Across the diaspora, Islam and Christianity are the two main religions Black people are a part of. In American society, Christainity has been a prominent religion in Black America since our arrival here. 

Before and during slavery, exposure to Christainity was integrated with African culture through the spread of Christianity in Africa and the subjection of Christian “values” interpreted by slave masters onto their slaves. So became the creation of negro spirituals, a mix of religious praising and African musical practices. Slaves would sing songs of freedom, hope, change, etc. This practice often praised and prayed to God in the way Christianity does while using song and dance as a form of expression and manifestation which was a part of many African ritual traditions.

Post-slavery, Black Church culture became very significant in America, as having faith in religion influenced the big movements like slave rebellions the civil rights movement and was a catalyst of hope in a community that has suffered great hardships and overcame, like the creation of SNCC, and activists like John Lewis, MLK, etc. Even during slavery, freedom fighters like Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman credit a great deal of their success in freeing slaves to having faith in the Lord.

This aspect of black culture is seen in black institutions as well, such as HBCUs. A plethora of HBCUs were supported by churches and missionary organizations upon their opening. Due to their involvement they wanted to ensure college students still had places to worship, and continue following their faith in college. To this day, many of these schools continue to practice Christainity traditions through church service at school, celebrations, religious based curriculum, etc. 

Black Church Culture

Schools like Arkansas Baptist College,Bethune-Cookman University, Clinton College, Concordia College, Lane College and many others have Christian required courses for their black students to continue feeling connected to their spirituality. A plethora of other HBCUs have chapels and churches on campus for students who want to engage in service.

Spelman College Church Service in 1881
HBCU church

With the long history of Christainity in the Black community, it only makes sense for Black church culture to spill into Black college culture.

FISK Jubilee Singers

Fisk University was founded in 1866 to educate the emancipated slaves. Due to struggling financially, the choir would perform locally and internationally to raise money for the school. Negro spirituals were sang while both enslaved and freed to fund their education at Fisk. 

Folk spiritual music then became prominent due to African American culture honoring it by carrying it along for the culture, even after many African Americans frowned upon the singing due to the association with being enslaved. 

Folk music spirituals has been continuously passed down generations to celebrate African-Americans and preserve the importance of it throughout HBCUs. 


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