In the spring of 1960, at a large Negro College in Alabama, a student of basketball stature came to talk to me after a very early morning Chapel during which I had read poetry by American Negroes. He had to stoop to shake hands with me. I saw that his eyes were moist and he said: '. . . the scales fell from my eyes this morning . . . but . . . if you were a Negro and you were in a white audience when this kind of poetry was read . . . how would you feel?''Proud, fellow,' I replied, 'I'd feel damn proud.' 'I guess you're right,' he said, 'but that'll take some getting used to'.
In the course of our discussion, which then followed, I quoted to my young Alabama friend something the great Frederick Douglass ( 1817- 1895), ex-slave, educator, newspaper editor and finally Minister to Haiti, wrote about the Negro Spirituals: 'I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meanings of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle, so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear.'
Then and there the idea for the present book was born. I am perhaps using Douglass's words now as a justification for the fact that BEYOND THE BLUES is presented by a 'Caucasian' from Holland at a time when the United States is about to commemorate January 1st, 1863, the day when the Emancipation from Slavery was proclaimed and the first freed men sang:
Slavery chain done broke at last,
Gonna praise God till I die.
Songs were sung all through the years of slavery; not because kidnapped and transplanted forced labourers were happy, but for the same reason that made some other man, at another period of human history, say: 'Canta che ti passa'--sing, and it will pass--with song, it will be easier to bear. Negro Spirituals, whether they are purely religious or songs in the code of 'Freedom Rides' on Harriet Tubman's* 'Underground Railway', are deeply rooted in____________________