Finding Our Voices in the Freedoms of Democracy

Article excerpt

This is the ninth in a series of articles revolving around the 12th Annual Leadership Summit, scheduled for September 23-25, 2004, in Charleston, S. C. Alfonso Brown is director of the Mt. Zion Spiritual Singers and is a native of Rantowles, S.C., a rural community of Charleston. He is fluent in the Gullah language and familiar with many of the Gullah customs.

Summit attendees will experience the smell of oil lamps, foot stomping and intense Lowcountry Gullah singing as never before heard. Voices will be heard and participants will be elevated by the intense emotions and feelings of spirituals as they engage with the Mt. Zion Spiritual Singers for an authentic old time Camp Meeting at the Leadership Summit in Charleston, S.C., next month.

Blacks who found their way to the United States through Charleston's slave market poured out their hearts in song. Slaves used music to tell stories, worship, protest slavery and communicate forbidden information in the quest for freedom.

The Mr. Zion Spiritual Singers have been recreating the old time Camp Meetings, where the scene looks something like straight out of the 19th century south, and have been performing at the annual Charleston Piccolo Spoleto festival since 1993. You could envision the setting as a 1920s clapboard church on Wadmalaw Island.

The spiritual, which was born in the South, is the official music for the state of South Carolina. At a ceremonial bill-signing in 1999, then-Gov. Jim Hodges stated, "The spiritual is an essential part of South Carolina's musical, religious and cultural heritage."

The new state symbol helps recognize the significant cultural contributions blacks have made in South Carolina; particularly in the Lowcountry. …