The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Some Questions on Folk Seculars and Spirituals:

Folk Seculars:

"Promises of Freedom": What irony or humor is embedded in this song? Why is the slaveowner's wife described as she is? What deceptions motivate the tone of the ending?

"Wild Negro Bill": What is the tone of Bill's self-descriptions? In context, why is he admired?

"This Sun is Hot"; "That Hypocrite": What occupations or attitudes seem to be the but of humor, and why?

Did any other "folk seculars" seem to suggest an important historical context for nineteenth-century African-Americans?

According to the testimony of these songs/lyrics, how did male-female relations seem to be affected by slavery/plantation work?


Look over the Georgia Sea Island religious songs. Are there ways in which they remind you of the Orisha ceremonies? Which ones seem to you most interesting or poetic, and why?

What do you think was the purpose behind the songs celebrating Moses? Exhorting John to read? Celebrating the ringing of the bell? Calling on death? Was the latter intended to be comforting, and if not, what was its purpose?

Can you explain the song which enacts the actions of a buzzard? Do you find it horrible?

Are there ways in which spirituals differ from conventional Christian hymns? If so, what causes this difference?

Can you see some ways in which these songs anticipate or resemble early blues and worksongs?

What methods does "No More Auction Block" use to make its point? What is the effect of repetition? What is alluded to by the "peck of corn" and "pint of salt"? Can you see a movement from stanza to stanza? Is the alternation of general statement and specificity effective?

For each of the spirituals in Randall's anthology, comment on why the topic might have interested members of an oppressed people. Which details of the story are emphasized, and why? Are there elements of humor, and if so, how do these reinforce the main point?

How does the refrain affect the meaning in "What Yo" Gwine to do when Yo" Lamp Burn Down"?

What metaphors are latent in "De Old Sheep Dey Know the Road"? Can you speculate on the age of the singer? What would be the psychological effect of such a song on the congregation?

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