The Symbolism Behind Negro Spirituals

It has always been apparent that songs more often than not have deeper meanings embedded in them. Whether it be metaphors, figurative language, or hidden messages, there can always be some kind of take away, lesson learned, or story told. In this post, I will be sharing with you the biblical take aways from some of the more popular songs in the negro spiritual genre. [These are all originally negro spirituals, but the following videos may be sung in different styles.]

Go Down Moses

Go Down Moses is probably one of the most obvious in relation to there being an underlying, deeper meaning. The lyrics of this piece very blatantly tells the story of Moses from Exodus 5:1. This chapter of the bible follows Moses into Egypt, as he works to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their captivity. I would consider this being a big reason as to why enslaved black people had a natural affinity to this song. The early African Americans’ experiences can easily be compared to those of the Israelites in the Old Testament. So much so, that they could have looked to the piece for hope that one day things would get better and they’d gain their freedom!

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child has the simile included directly in the title. No one means to be literally referencing a genuine loss of a parent. It more so speaks to the feeling of sorrow that the singer has. There are moments in life where it seems as though there is no one out there on your side to help you. Being that it is a negro spiritual, this piece is an example of what slaves would sing in efforts to express themselves in places that it wasn’t fully acceptable to speak their minds. One of the ways the enslaved coped with their trials and tribulations of life were to put it in song form. This simile is, I guess you could say, code for “I am not enjoying these living conditions, and I know that there is no one around that can help me.” It is a song solely about feeling alone and wondering how long you’ll be feeling that way. 

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