III
UPSTART CROWS -- THE REACTION
FROM RELIGION

IT would be too much to expect the Negro, or any other race, to live and sing constantly on the high plane of the spirituals. The spirituals are naïve, earnest. But the Negro is neither always naïve nor always earnest. He has at times a spirit of mockery that must come to the surface; he must follow the universal trivial practice of sometimes making light of the things he reveres. Thus he sings a considerable number of songs in which the spirituals are openly flaunted, or in which matter that is seriously treated in the spirituals is regarded as humorous.

This is the more remarkable from the fact that, when the Negro is singing spirituals in a spiritual mood, nothing is humorous or incongruous. Otherwise he would be compelled to smile with the thoughtless white man at certain things in the spirituals. He does smile, sometimes, but only because the white man does. The spiritual may even include parts of secular songs like "Settin' on a log," which Clarence Deming1 heard in church in Mississippi in the eighteen-eighties, and be felt to be perfectly proper. And since the Negro may use the spiritual as a work song without any sense of impairing its dignity (just as white people use hymns similarly), it is difficult in particular cases always to be sure whether the singer is using sacred material lightly or light material sacredly.

There can be no doubt, however, that in moods of cynical flippancy and in moods of reaction the same Negro who has sung spirituals religiously may indulge in songs which make a mockery of them. The majority of such singing, however, is by a class of singers who are not in such good grace with the church as the typical singer of spirituals.

Not all of the songs of this sort are based upon spirituals. In the present group ten songs2 seem to be based directly on the spirituals, while four3 are based upon regular hymns, and are sung no more by

____________________
1
See note to no. 21 in this chapter.
2
Nos. 1, 2, 11, 12, 13, 18, 28, 29, 30, 35.
3
Nos. 3, 4, 6, 24 E.

-130-

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American Negro Folk-Songs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Foreword v
  • Preface xxi
  • Contents xxv
  • I The Negro Song in General 3
  • II Religious Songs 31
  • III Upstart Crows -- The Reaction From Religion 130
  • IV Social Songs -- Dance and Banjo 148
  • V Social Songs: Narrative Songs and Ballads 185
  • VI Songs About Animals 224
  • VII Work Songs--Gang Laborers 250
  • VIII Rural Labor 281
  • IX General and Miscellaneous Labor 290
  • X Songs About Women 311
  • XI Recent Events 341
  • XII The Seamier Side 356
  • XIII Race-Consciousness 376
  • XIV Blues and Miscellaneous Songs 387
  • APPENDICES 403
  • Bibliography 467
  • INDICES 481
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