Menendez's African American Spirituals Resolution Passes Congress

Menendez's African American Spirituals Resolution Passes Congress

Senator calls American art form a 'National Treasure'

Washington - The United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) honoring the African American spiritual. Menendez originally introduced the measure last year, and has since gained Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) as co-sponsors. The House of Representatives also passed a resolution with language identical to the one drafted by Menendez.

"African American spirituals are more than just songs and are about more than just lyrics," said Menendez. "For an entire people, these songs simultaneously represented hope, dissent, courage and, ultimately, an abiding faith in a land free from the ravages of slavery and oppression. Our challenge today and every day is to not only remember the songs and lyrics, but to also commemorate the moral courage that inspired these anthems of freedom and deliverance."

The Menendez-led measure would be the first such honor for the African American spiritual by the U.S. Senate. Rock 'n' Roll and Blues have both been designated a national treasure but the African American spiritual has not been afforded that distinction. The resolution calls for the Senate to express the "deepest gratitude, recognition and honor to the former enslaved Africans in the United States for their gifts to the Nation, including their original music and oral history."

According to American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, the African American spiritual oftentimes took many forms and the lyrics appealed to a variety of emotions and sentiment, including: "sorrow, alienation and desolation"; "consolation and faith"; "resistance and defiance"; "deliverance"; "jubilation and triumph"; "judgment and reckoning"; "regeneration"; "spiritual progress"; and "transcendence."

New Jersey resident Calvin Earl, a renowned performer and educator on African American spirituals, said that the Christian lyrics became a metaphor for freedom from slavery, a secret way for slaves to "communicate with each other, teach their children, record their history and heal their pain."

The resolution is co-sponsored by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Barack Obama (D-IL) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

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