Representations and Attitudes Toward Blacks

Representations and Attitudes Toward Blacks

Anti-Slavery Hymn; The Big Nigger; Kingdom Coming; Niggers in Convention. Sumner’s Speech; The Poor Old Slave; The Southern Wagon; Uncle Ned; Uncle Snow

All of these songs were written by and for white people and the attitudes expressed therein are those of whites. The persona may be black but the true voice is white. These ballads tell us more about the white writers and the white audiences whom they addressed than about slaves or free blacks. The idealism and spirituality in “Anti-Slavery Hymn” expresses the wish for the nation to reject a way of life that was abominable, yet had been economically beneficial for centuries. Prejudice was evident in ballads from both the North and the South, although the latter presented a less lighthearted and more disdainful tone (Moseley, American Music 2). Although the “The Southern Wagon” does not mention slavery, the blank receipt printed on the back reveals a reality widely accepted. It is presented here to illuminate how common and informal the trade was.

The ballads show no fondness expressed for blacks; the only affection is between slaves, or the slaves affection for his master. The portrayal of blacks conveyed in nineteenth-century song are as confused and ambivalent as were the attitudes of Americans of that period.

The ballad “Niggers in Convention, Sumner’s Speech” pokes fun at Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner’s progressive efforts toward civil rights and the military recruitment of blacks. Sumner devoted much energy to the destruction of what he considered the Slave Power, the scheme of slave owners to take control of the federal government and block the progress of liberty. His severe physical beating in 1856 by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks on the floor of the United States Senate, an assault that required three years of rehabilitation, helped escalate the tensions that led to the war.

Civil War Ballads Gallery

Viewing page 7 of 15