Negro Spirituals, also known as the music and songs that slaves used to sing as a coping mechanism. As functions, Negro Spirituals were used an outlet for slaves and had three main functions; songs of praise (Keep Your Hand on the Plow), a protest to the systematic slavery (I Got a Robe), and as coded messages to escape slavery (Follow the Drinking Gourd).
Songs of Praise (Keep Your Hand on the Plow)
Negro Spirituals were used as songs of praise, as many slaves were forced to sneak church services to practice Christianity. These songs helped them get through the thoughts and the horrors of slavery, and even became a sort of a coping mechanism for the slaves. These songs gave the slaves hope for freedom and a future. The song “Keep Your Hand on the Plow” features lines like “Mary had a golden chain/Ev’ry link was my Jesus’ name/ Keep on climbin’ an’ don’t you tire.” The lyrics of this song are used to motivate slaves and keep reminding them that there’s a better life somewhere. It’s telling them that Jesus says if you keep your head up and keep on going when the times are hard, call on him and he will guide you through these tough times.
Songs of Protest (I Got a Robe)
As songs of protest, Negro Spirituals were ones to protest the inhumane treatment they were immediately met with. From being taken against their will, locked up on ships, starved, beaten, and many other horrible things, the only way. As many slaves were not able to physically protest this treatment, they turned to singing songs of protest until their voices were heard. The song “I Got a Robe” has the lyrics “I got a robe, you got a robe/ All o’ God’s chillun got a robe/I’m goin’ to shout all ovah God’s Heab’n.” These words are used to protest all of the things their oppressors are telling them and say “you aren’t going to win over me because I’m going to live my life and I’m going to the promise land”.
Songs of Escape (Follow the Drinking Gourd)
As many slaves dreamed of escaping bondage and reaching the freedom of their homeland, they had to come up with discreet ways on how to communicate their ways of escape. These Spirituals contained directions on where to go, what to avoid, and who to meet. The song has lyrics such as “I got to cross that river of Jordan/Lord, I dot to cross that for myself/ Says, nobody here can cross that for me/ Lord, I got to cross that for myself.” These lyrics are used to communicate to other slaves that the way to freedom was across the river Jordan.