Tags

, , , ,

5th August 1858: Beacon Hill, Boston, the site of the oldest surviving Black Church and a centre of the abolitionist movement. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

5th August 1858: Beacon Hill, Boston, the site of the oldest surviving Black Church and a centre of the abolitionist movement. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Did some African American slaves prefer suicide, even if they were afraid of dying?  How many chose to end their lives?  How many regretted not having the means to do so? Suicide requires courage, but requires less courage than submitting to torture. Death is not always the worst outcome, what’s worst is suffering that goes on and on, horror without pause. Whereas hope is a leap of faith, courage is an act of will. It is willful courage that is required to face torments one cannot change or escape.

Yet, in spite of the brutality and dehumanization of slavery, African Americans developed a strong tradition of song, often inspired by their religion.

There is no greater testament to the tenacity of the human spirit than the songs of slaves.  We, regardless of our heritage, have much to learn from the ways they dug deep within to discover, beyond their physical and mental suffering, embers of joy and loving-kindness, embers they, with willful courage, turned into light.

Matthew 5:15-16  (Part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount):

15  No one lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
16  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that you may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

This Little Light of Mine (African American spiritual, circa 1750-1875):

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Ev’ry-where I go,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Ev’ry-where I go,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Ev’ry-where I go,
I’m gonna let it shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Building up a world,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Building up a world,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Building up a world,
I’m gonna let it shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

References:  “This Little Light of Mine,” Hymn #118 in Singing the Living Tradition (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1993); Between the Lines:  Sources for Singing the Living Tradition, edited by Jacqui James, 2nd ed. (Boston:  Skinner House Books, 1995).

About these ads