Following the Drinking Gourd
Coded Spirituals in American Slavery
"I don't take [them] off the plantation. This way they don't know which way is east, which way it is to the west. Once they have figured where someplace else is--next thing you know, they'll know which way is the north.“
-From Alex Haley’s “Roots”
Read on and follow the links (red buttons) below to learn more about how slaves in the American South used vocal music to openly communicate secret plans for escape.
Advisory - providing general information or advice on how to successfully escape
Signal - providing current intelligence about an upcoming escape
Map - providing specific geographical information
Analyze the lyrics of the songs below, and see if you can find clues to secret or double meanings in the words.
UNLOCK THE CODE !
This rendition of "Steal Away" is rich with African-American cultural references, and was performed live at the oldest AME church in the Americas, Emanuel AME, Charleston, South Carolina.
America's oldest African Methodist Episcopal church, in Charleston, S.C.
Emanuel AME Church facade
With it's proximity to slave breeding plantations in the Caribbean, Charleston was the main port of entry for slaves in the U.S.
Floor Plans for Emanuel AME
This architectural form became a model for AME churches nationwide.