Aisha Matthews

MA Candidate

Southern New Hampshire University

United States


Abstract: The following article explores the historical and cultural evolution of Negro Spirituals as they were revised for use in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Examining the Spirituals, “Wade in the Water” and “Oh, Freedom,” this essay seeks to prove that while the legacy of slavery imbued in the Negro Spiritual did serve the purpose of reminding America of its unjust past, these songs took on new meaning in the Civil Rights Era and were put to use as a medium for communication, a salve for spiritual degradation, and above all else, a stepping stone off of which the movement intended to leap into a brighter future of equality for all. This essay challenges the claim that Negro Spirituals were too entrenched in the historical atrocities of the past to offer a revitalized message for the purposes of the CRM.


Keywords: Negro Spirituals; Civil Rights Movement; slavery; freedom singing

Looking Back is Moving Forward: The Legacy of Negro Spirituals in the Civil Rights Movement