Go Down Moses (2020 Recording) – Performed and Produced by Cynthia Liggins Thomas
Go Down Moses (1937 Recording) – Performed by Marian Anderson
Go Down Moses is one of the most performed Negro Spirituals of all time.
It’s most notably known for its use by Lady Harriet Tubman in her Underground Railroad Missions, and also during the Civil War era by the Contrabands at Fort Monroe.
Based on Harriet Tubman’s own words, and a lot of other documentation about her freedom missions, we know she led about 70 people – family and friends – to freedom, in approximately 13 trips to Maryland. During public and private meetings between 1858 and 1859, Tubman repeatedly told people that she had rescued 50 to 60 people in 8 or 9 trips.
This was before her very last mission, in December 1860,
when she led 7 more people to freedom.
In Sarah Bradford’s biography, Scenes in the
Life of Harriet Tubman, it’s quoted that Lady Harriet sang two songs while operating her “Underground Railroad”: ‘Go Down Moses,’ and,
‘Bound For the Promised Land.’ Lady Harriet said she changed the tempo of the songs to indicate whether it was safe to come out or not.
“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” Harriet Tubman at a suffrage convention, NY, 1896.
‘Go Down Moses’ describes events in the Old Testament
of the Bible, specifically Exodus 7:16:
“And the Lord spoke unto Moses, go unto Pharaoh,
and say unto him, thus saith the Lord, Let my people go,
that they may serve me”, in which God commands
Moses to demand the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
The song was used as a rallying anthem for the Contrabands at Fort Monroe sometime before July, 1862.“Contrabands were the enslaved who during the American Civil War escaped to or was brought within the Union lines”
Early authorities presumed it was composed by them. Sheet music was soon after published, titled “Oh! Let My People Go: The Song of the Contrabands” and arranged by Horace Waters. L.C. Lockwood, the chaplain of the contrabands, stated in the sheet music the song was from Virginia,
dating from about 1853.
In the song “Israel” represents the African-American slaves while “Egypt” and “Pharaoh” represent the slave master. Going “down” to Egypt is derived from the Biblical origin, where Egypt is consistently perceived as being “below” other lands, with going to Egypt being “down” while going away from Egypt is “up”. In the context of American slavery, this ancient sense of “down” converged with the concept of “down the river” (the Mississippi),
where slaves’ conditions were notoriously worse, a situation which left the idiom “sell someone down the river” in present-day English.
Source: Siebra Muhammad -BlackNews.com
Cynthia Liggins Thomas – Producer/Performer
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