African American Spirituals


Godfrey Henneghan


A National Treasure

US Congress Recognized African American Spirituals As A National Treasure




February 5, 2007

 (for himself, Mr. ReidMr. CoburnMr. ObamaMr. DurbinMr. BidenMr. LevinMr. FeingoldMrs. DoleMrs. ClintonMr. Lautenberg, and Mr. Kennedy) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

February 15, 2007

Reported by , without amendment

February 17, 2007

Considered and agreed to



Recognizing the African-American spiritual as a national treasure.

Whereas since slavery was introduced into the European colonies in 1619, enslaved Africans remained in bondage until the United States ratified the 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1865;

Whereas during that period in the history of the United States, the first expression of a unique American music was created by enslaved African-Americans who


used their knowledge of the English language and the Christian religious faith, as it had been taught to them in the New World; and


stealthily wove within the music their experience of coping with human servitude and their strong desire to be free;

Whereas as a method of survival, enslaved African-Americans who were forbidden to speak their native languages, play musical instruments they had used in Africa, or practice their traditional religious beliefs, relied on their strong African oral tradition of songs, stories, proverbs, and historical accounts to create an original genre of music, now known as spirituals;

Whereas Calvin Earl, a noted performer of, and educator on, African-American spirituals, remarked that the Christian lyrics became a metaphor for freedom from slavery, a secret way for slaves to communicate with each other, teach their children, record their history, and heal their pain;

Whereas the New Jersey Historical Commission found that some of those daring and artful runaway slaves who entered New Jersey by way of the Underground Railroad no doubt sang the words of old Negro spirituals like Steal Away before embarking on their perilous journey north;

Whereas African-American spirituals spread all over the United States, and the songs we know of today may represent only a small portion of the total number of spirituals that once existed;

Whereas Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave who would become one of the leading abolitionists in the United States, remarked that spirituals told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.; and

Whereas section 2(a)(1) of the American Folklife Preservation Act (20 U.S.C. 2101(a)(1)) states that the diversity inherent in American folklife has contributed greatly to the cultural richness of the Nation and has fostered a sense of individuality and identity among the American people: Now, therefore, be it


That the Senate—


recognizes that African-American spirituals are a poignant and powerful genre of music that have become one of the most significant segments of American music in existence;


expresses the deepest gratitude, recognition, and honor to the former enslaved Africans in the United States for their gifts to the Nation, including their original music and oral history; and


encourages the people of the United States to reflect on the important contribution of African-American spirituals to United States history and to recognize the African-American spiritual as a national treasure.




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Deep River   Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child   Oh, Peter Go Ring Dem Bells
The Lonesome Valley   Listen To The Lambs   Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
I'm a-Trav'ling To The Grave   Go Down, Moses   It's a Me, O Lord Standin' In The Need of Prayer
Steal Away   My Way's Cloudy   Hard Trials
Heav'n, Heav'n Goin' to Shout All Over God's Heav'n   I Don't Feel No-ways Tired   Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Had
Ev'ry Time I Feel The Spirit   I'm A Rolling   Wait 'Till I Put On My Crown
Jesus On The Waterside   Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel   Roll, Jordan, Roll
Wrestle On, Jacob       I've Been In The Storm So Long

Harry T Burleigh
December 2, 1866 to September 12, 1949

African American Classical Composer, Arranger and Professional Singer




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