“‘The words were simple enough’ Botume gasped, but when ‘chanted by 3,000 people the effect was electrical.’ It was, as Thomas Wentworth Higginson exclaimed on first hearing the spirituals, like ‘the choked voice of a race at last unloosed.'” -Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet
These words were written by people who witnessed slaves celebrate their freedom. I read this excerpt this morning and immediately began to contemplate what it must have been like to hear the united voices of 3,000 people singing songs of freedom. The sound must have been beautiful. The sound didn’t need to be on key or have the perfect harmony. There is something powerfully beautiful about the choked voice finally having freedom to be heard.
I wish I could hear those voices. I wish I could witness the depth of the soul of this sound.
Then I realized that I am hearing this sound today. I’m not hearing a few voices that represent an entire race. There isn’t a person like MLK or Malcolm X. No. Instead I hear a multitude–thousands–of voices of a generation that finally speak for themselves rather than having people speak on their behalf.
Don’t get distracted if the message is off key. Maybe the presentation isn’t a smooth melody. Too much focus on these components loses sight of the fact that this is the rich and soulful sound of “the choked voice of a race at last unloosed.”
Listen. And you’ll hear that it’s a cry for freedom.