Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Article excerpt

The appropriation of traditional religious music for political purposes is amply demonstrated by the present selection, a nineteenth-century English hymn sung to rally the troops in the early mass mobilization of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955-56. It may seem odd that this militant Christian song should be embraced by protesters of a nonviolent and secular political movement. Reading the words carefully, can you reconcile this apparent contradiction? What, according to the hymn, are "Christian soldiers"? What is their battle, who their foe, and what is their goal? Can you see the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of this hymn? Is the Civil Rights Movement, at bottom, a religious--Christian--crusade, rather than an American one?

For a musical rendition, listen to Mahalia Jackson sing "Onward, Christian Soldiers": www.youtube.com/watch?v=63yBpl6Oixo.

   Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as
   to war,
   With the cross of Jesus going on before;
   Christ, the royal Master, leads against
   the foe;
   Forward into battle see His banners go! … 
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