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They Bear Acquaintance

African American Spirituals and the Camp Meetings


Nancy L. Graham

Identifying the roots of African American spirituals and other religious folk music has intrigued academics, hymnologists and song leaders since this genre came to the public eye in 1867. The conversation on origins has waned and waxed for over eighty years, sometimes polemical, sometimes compromising. They Bear Acquaintance looks at this discussion through the output of various well-regarded researchers from the twentieth century. The effects of cultural distinctions, immigration patterns and class structure have all left their imprint on the anatomy of the music. No one living has ever heard a spiritual performed in an authentic setting, so misconceptions abound. Pre-dating the American Civil War and achieving global attention in the Civil Rights movement, the spirituals soften the edges of difficult situations, and speak gently, yet poignantly, to human struggles. The book also pinpoints new material from a wide range of sources in the twenty-first century that will preserve and affirm this music for many years to come.

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Appendix III


Description of the final hours of a camp meeting on the Delmarva Peninsula in 1868 (Yoder 1961, 22–23). It is attributed to Robert Todd’s Methodism of the Peninsula (Philadelphia 1886) and William W. Bennett’s Memorials of Methodism in Virginia (Richmond 1871) 569–570.

Possible inspiration for the text of “The Hammer Song” by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, written in 1948 for The Progressive Movement.

On the Delmarva Peninsula southward from Philadelphia—part of the Philadelphia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1796 until the formation of the Wilmington Conference in 1868, Negroes and whites normally attended the same Methodist camp meetings. The historian of Peninsula Methodism tells us that

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