WHEN I WAS TEN YEARS OLD, I went to sing in Europe with five other choirboys from my parish church, St. Thomas the Apostle, Ann Arbor, Michigan. We six were selected to sing in Rome at an international congress of boys' choirs. After singing at St. Peter's Basilica, we would travel to Paris to spend a week at the headquarters of the sponsoring organization, the Singers of the Wooden Cross. I was the only African-American in our group, and as we mingled with other choirs from around the world in St. Peter's square, European singers, who had rarely, if ever, seen a black person, routinely asked me to pose for a picture with them. I agreed, rejecting the advice of one of my fellow Americans to "charge them a buck a picture." In Paris we were greeted by the director of the French Singers of the Wooden Cross, a jovial monsignor, who asked me to sing a "Negro spiritual," which, he claimed, "we love." Embarrassed, I refused his request to sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" or "Go Down, Moses," and was surprised to learn that he, and apparently other foreigners, knew of these songs, which my mother sometimes sang while doing dishes or when worries saddened her spirit. Already singled out, I was reluctant to draw any more attention to myself. I also felt a vague unease about exhibiting something of my people for the enjoyment of white folks. I was troubled by his request, my uneasiness enhanced by a sense that spirituals belonged, not to our Roman
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Publication information: Book title: A Fire in the Bones:Reflections on African-American Religious History. Contributors: Albert J. Raboteau - Author. Publisher: Beacon Press. Place of publication: Boston. Publication year: 1995. Page number: ix.
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