Negro spirituals to take center stage at civic center
FROM STAFF REPORTS
A handmade quilt of reproductive fabric from the Civil War era will form the backdrop for a program to be presented at the Center for Civic Engagement at Bethune-Cookman University on Dec. 7.
“Go Tell It On The Mountain,” written and directed by storyteller and Civil War re-enactor Mary Fears, will feature six performers singing the “Sacred Sounds of Slavery,” songs known today as Negro spirituals.
Dr. Howard Thurman, a former professor at Boston University and a former resident of Daytona Beach made a study of those slave songs and penned his views about their creation in The Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death, Friends United Press. 1999. His book is a reference for the program.
As in all of Fears’ programs, this Negro Spirituals’ presentation is based on documented resources: “The Sounds of Slavery’’ by Shane and Graham White; “Dark Midnight When I Rise, the Story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers’’ by Andrew Ward; and a book with the original songs published in 1887 with the title, “Jubilee and Plantation Songs, Characteristic Favorites as Sung by the Hampton Students, Jubilee Singers, Fisk University Students and other Concert Companies.’’ The spirituals in the program are taken from this book in which the original version of “Go Down Moses” has 25 stanzas.
Dramatization by locals
Narrators and soloists clad in period clothing as those in bondage and free people of color will tell the stories which inspired the creation of the plantation melodies or cabin songs as they were originally called. The program will include a dramatization of a scene from Andrew Ward’s “Story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers’’ and true-life experiences of Frederick Douglass who made comments about the slave’s singing in his books.
It was the Fisk Jubilee Singers who toured the northern cities and European countries abroad in the early 1870s who introduced this musical phase of Black culture to the world. This program presents the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
In 187l when the nine Fisk University students embarked on their first of three tours, they accomplished for themselves and this nation, a demonstration of the dignity, intelligence and educability of African-Americans.
Although at that time, the end of the Civil War and the l3th Amendment had declared the end of slavery, Black Americans were still perceived by many as members of an inferior race and many expected their first performances to be comical as minstrel shows. Their introduction of the plantation melodies to vast audiences proved to the world that there was something of lasting value in African-American culture.
Years earlier, the well-known orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass had also traveled abroad and expressed comments about the slaves’ singing. Douglass’ views will be given by re-enactor John H. Anderson.
Bitterness of slavery
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who often shared the stage with Anderson, wrote this description of his portrayal of Douglass: “He stood there like an African prince, conscious of his dignity and power, grand in his proportions, majestic in his wrath, as with keen wit, satire and indignation, he portrayed the bitterness of slavery.” Another contemporary stated that he was “more than 6 feet in height…his voice in its richness and depth…the listeners never forgot. And they never forgot his burning words.”
Anderson bears a striking physical resemblance to the great orator. He will highlight the Negro spirituals’ program with an unforgettable performance that remarkably lives up to the vision of Douglass as described by Stanton and his contemporaries who heard him speak.
Supporting ‘living historians”
A cast of 17 will present a program that will inform and entertain. Proceeds will support a new project by Fears to train and costume a group of students to become living historians as storytellers and re-enactors to continue presenting educational programs about the history and achievements of African-Americans in music and other fields.
For more information about the program, call 386-253 1516.