Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 33 Sing The Old Songs

THERE is no part of our chapel exercises that gives me more pleasure than the beautiful Negro melodies which you sing. I believe there is no part of the service more truly spiritual, more elevating. Wherever you go, after you leave this school, I hope that you will never give up the singing of these songs. If you go out to have schools of your own, have your pupils sing them as you have sung them here, and teach them to see the beauty which dwells in these songs. When in New York, not long ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Prince Henry of Prussia; he spoke particularly of the beauty of these songs, and said that in his own home, in Germany, he and his family often sing them. He asked if there was any printed collection of these songs, that a copy might be sent him, and I have since then forwarded to him a copy of the book of plantation melodies collected and published under the auspices of Hampton Institute.

When Christ was upon this earth He said: "A little child shall lead them." Whence comes this supreme power of leadership? In this age, when we hear so much said about leaders of men, about successful leadership, we do well to stop to consider this admonition of the Savior. Some are said to lead in business, others in education, others in politics, or in religion. What is the explanation of "A little child shall lead them?" Simply this, a little child, under all circumstances, is its simple, pure, sweet self; never appearing big when it is little; never appearing learned when it is ignorant; never appearing wealthy when it is in poverty; never appearing important when it is unimpor-tant. In a word, the life of the child is founded upon the great and immutable, and yet simple, tender and delicate laws of nature. There is no pretence. There is no mockery.

There is an unconscious, beautiful, strong clinging to truth; and it is this divine quality in child or in man, in Jew or Gentile, in Christian or Mohammedan, in the ancient world or in the modern world, in a black man or in a white man, that always has led men and molded their activity. The men who have been brave enough, wise enough, simple enough, self-denying enough to plant themselves upon this rock of truth and there stand, have, in the end, drawn the world unto them, even as Christ said: "I will draw all men unto me." Such a man was Luther, such a man was Wesley, such a man was Carlyle, such a man was Cromwell, such were Garrison and Phillips, such was Abraham Lincoln, and such was our own great Frederick Douglass.

The thing aimed at by all great souls has been to bring men and races back to the simplicity and purity of childhood-back to reality.

What is the most original product with which the Negro race stands accredited? Yes, I am almost ready to add, with which America stands accredited? Without hesitation I answer - Those beautiful, weird, quaint, sweet melodies which were the simple, child-like expression of the anguish, the joy, the hopes, the burdens, the faith, the trials of our forefathers who wore the yoke of slavery.

Why are they the admiration of the world? Why does every attempt at improvement spoil them? Why do they never fail to touch the tenderest chord-to bring tears from the eyes 'of rich and poor-from king and humblest toiler alike?

Listen how in this beautiful song the soul in trouble is told not to go to houses and temples made by man, but to get close to Nature

If yer want to see Jesus Go in de wilderness, Go in de wilderness, Go in de wilderness, Go in de wilderness. 1f yer want to see Jesus, Go in de wilderness Leanin' on de Lord.

Oh brudder, how d'ye feel, when ye come out de wilderness, Come out de wilderness, Come out de wilderness,

Oh, brudder, how d'ye feel, when ye come out de wilderness, Leanin' on de Lord?

Then, in another, hear how our fore parents broke through all the deceptions and allurements of false wealth, and in their long days of weariness expressed their faith in a place where every day would be one of rest.

Oh, religion is a fortune,

I raly do believe.

Oh, religion is a fortune,

I r'a'ly do believe.

Oh, religion is a fortune,

I r'a'ly do believe,

Whar Sabbaths hab no end.

Whar yo' been, poor mourner, whar yo' been so long?

" Been down in de valley, for to pray; An' I ain't done prayin' yet."

Then, how, when oppressed by years of servitude to which others thought there would be no end, we hear them break out into quaint and wild bursts of appeal to fact?

My Lord delibered Daniel, My Lord delibered Daniel, My

Lord delibered Daniel;

Why can't He deliber me?

I met pilgrim on de way, an' I ask him where he's gwine.

"I'm bound for Canaan's happy lan',

An' dis is de shoutin' band.

Go on."

He delibered Daniel from de lion's den,

Jonah from de belly ob de whale,

An' de Hebrew children from de fiery furnace.

Den why not ebery man?"

Or when the burden seemed almost too great for human body to endure, there carne this simple, child-like prayer

O Lord, 0, my Lord, 0, my good Lord, Keep me from sinkin'


O Lord, 0 my Lord, 0 my good Lord, Keep me from sinkin'


I tell yo' what I mean to do. Keep me from sinkin' down.

I mean to go to hebben, too. Keep me from sinkin' down.

Or what could go more directly to Nature's heart than the pathetic yet hopeful, trustful outburst of the little slave boy who was to be taken from his mother to be sold into the far South, when it seemed to him that all earthly happiness was forever blighted. Hear him:

I'm gwine to jine de great 'sociation, I'm gwine to jine de great

'sociation, I'm gwine to jine de great 'sociation.

Den my little soul's gwine to shine, shine;

Den my little soul's gwine to shine along. Oh I

I'm gwine to climb up Jacob's ladder.

Den my little soul's gwine to shine, shine.

Den my little soul's gwine to shine along. Oh I

I'm gwine to climb up higher an' higher. Den my little soul's

gwine , etc

I'm gwine to sit at de welcome table I'm gwine to feast off milk

an' honey.

I'm gwine to tell God how-a' you sarved me. Den my little

soul's gwine to shine, shine. Den my little soul's gwine to

shine along. Oh!

And so it has ever been, so it is, and ever will be. The world, regardless of race, or color, or condition, admires and approves a real thing. But sham, buffoonery, mere imitation, mere superficiality, never has brought success and never will bring it.

An individual or a race that is strong enough, is wise enough, to disregard makeshifts, customs, prejudices, alluring temptations, decep-tions, imitations-to throw off the mask of unreality and plant itself deep down in the clay, or on the solid granite of nature, is the indi-vidual or the race that will crawl up, struggle up, yes, even burst up; and in the effort of doing so will gain a strength that will command for it respect and recognition. Before an individual or a race thus equipped, race prejudice, senseless customs, oppressions, will hide their faces forever in blushing shame.