Chariot: (n) a two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle used in ancient warfare and racing.

“Negro spiritual. “

It’s not exactly an oxymoron, but within the two words there seems to be a contradiction of purpose.

After all, if you were a Negro, you might find it difficult to be spiritual to those who decided to know you only by that term.

Yet a race of people who were beaten, subjugated, raped and sometimes nearly starved managed to get around a fire late at night when their persecutors had retired to the Big House, and come up with songs which we now display in our religious catalogues today.

  • “Let My People Go”
  • “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
  • And of course, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

Even though the songs are melodic, harmonic and perhaps even rhythmic, they all carry a central theme: “Dear God, I hope they stop beating me and if they won’t, I hope you kill me soon.”

You can be sympathetic to their plight.

“Swing low, sweet chariot,

Comin’ for to carry me home…”

A pretty simple passage: “Since there’s no solution here on Earth, since the Massa has the whip and since my family can be sold at a moment’s notice, maybe it would be wise to begin Eternity really soon.”

Negro spiritual–a music that tells us where people find solace when other humans abandon and mistreat them.

It is soulful, it is seeking and it is sad.

I can’t listen to the song about the chariot without realizing that my ancestors made the singer want to die.




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Angelou, Maya

dictionary with letter A

Angelou, Maya: (1928-2014): a U.S. novelist and poet, who wrote the autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” recounting her harrowing experiences as a black child in the American south.

When Ms. Angelou died recently, I was curious about how the press would discuss her journey.

Let’s be honest–it’s what we do. We characterize human beings into such small compartments that it is difficult for them to be contained without busting out the sides.

Here is what I discovered: most of the reports focused on some aspect of her race, her experiences within the realm of her color, or her writings about the subject. It will be many generations before we’re able to escape the statement, “She was black.”

The next popular phrase used for her was “ground-breaking.”

Often I think we fail to understand that breaking ground means that the earth has gone fallow, failing to grow anything, and that someone needs to take a shovel to the crusty surface and risk looking like a fool for pursuing hope in the desert.

Even though we laud her efforts, we must realize that she spent the majority of her life subjugated by a society that found her inferior by hue, even though she was able to intellectually surpass all the hum of their activity.

In third place was an appreciation for her art.

I suppose it might have taken a primal position had it not been for an ongoing, quiet racism that whispers in corners of the secrecy of our private moments.

I personally remember her as a soft-spoken, gentle woman with a bit of edge, who tried to explain the confusion around her using more beautiful language than it perhaps deserves.

I recall her debating a rap artist and telling the young man that using dark or evil language was like pouring poison into the world. She said, “Poison is always poison.”

The young rapper was very respectful but unmoved. For after all, one man’s poison is another man’s medicine, and all the cures we have for ailments, left to themselves or taken in excess, are deadly.

She was a tender, simple woman of craft who believed there was still much to be done, carried the scars of her upbringing and yearned for a more peaceful place.

It is a great comfort to me that she has found that home.

It is a great curiosity to me that perhaps in the future, people like Maya can be known for what they say instead of what color they appear to be.



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