- Navneet Sethi
The early part of the nineteenth century saw the conversion to Christianity of much of the slave population of the United States and with that conversion an upsurge in the creation of sacred songs, many of them thematically bound to the stories of the Old Testament. These slave songs were both a form of communication—through which slaves called out to one another—and an attempt to forge some semblance of community within the logistics of the missionary program to “civilize” the slaves and to remove whatever elements of subversion remained in their consciousness.
With the end of the Civil War however and the coming of Emancipation a need to fashion a new kind of music arose one at a remove from the signs and remembrances of slavery especially those of the hollers or work songs that recalled the days of the massa or the drinking dipper It was into this world ...
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present.