The movement to abolish American slavery gave rise to a wealth of songs. As with songs for women’s suffrage and other social movements, new lyrics were often set to familiar tunes, and a number of songsters published to disseminate them.
My engagement with this material began with a gig at local historical landmark Parsonsfield Seminary and a desire to lift up its role in the Underground Railroad. I’ll be singing some of these songs, prioritizing Black voices, at the Effingham Historical Society, 1014 Province Lake Road, Effingham NH, on Friday, July 15, 7 PM (donations accepted). I have much more to learn but am eager to share what I can, including songs by prolific lyricist Joshua McCarter Simpson. He said, “As soon as I could write, which was not until I was past twenty-one years old, a spirit of poetry, (which was always in me,) became revived, and seemed to waft before my mind horrid pictures of the condition of my people, and something seemed to say, ‘Write and sing about it—you can sing what would be death to speak.’ So I began to write and sing.”
Some of us would sweep this history under the rug to avoid dealing with its legacy. May keeping these songs alive be a small step in another direction! In coming days I’ll be working on adding a page of abolitionist song resource links to this site.