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Code words in Spirituals

Thanks to all who responded. Here are the responses with my own at the bottom:

This is an e-mail from Lyvonne Chrisman, *Friends of Negro Spirituals.*

Try the following:

Lovell, John, Jr. Black Song: The *Forge* and the *Flame*. The Story of How the Afro-American *Spiritual* was *Hammered Out*. NY: Paragon House, 1986


*Abolitionist* - a person who demanded immediate emancipation of slaves

*Agent* - coordinator, one who plotted the course of escape and made

*Drinking Gourd* - Big Dipper and the North Star

*Freedom Train or Gospel Train* - code name for the Underground Railroad

*Heaven or Promised Land* - Canada

*Preachers* - leaders/speakers of the Underground Railroad

*Shepherds* - people who escorted the slaves

*Station* - place of safety and temporary refuge, a safe house

*Station Master* - the keeper of a safe house

*Stockholder* - donor of money, clothing, or food to the Underground


*"The wind blows from the south today"* - the warning of slave bounty
hunters nearby

*"A friend with friends"* - A password used to signal the arrival of
fugitives with an Underground Railroad conductor

*"The friend of a friend sent me"* - A password used by fugitives traveling alone to indicate they were sent by the Underground Railroad network

*Load of potatoes, parcel, or bundles of wood* - fugitives to be expected


Spirituals as Coded Communication

Go to and look under:

coded spirituals

Underground Railroad songs

*Friends of Negro Spirituals*

A 501 (c) (3) organization.
Visit our news journal website at and
leave your e-mail address for Negro Spirituals news and information.
Telephone (510) 869-4359 or e-mail sedwards(a) or fns3(a)
"This organization is supported, in part, by a grant from the Alameda County Art Commission".

One of the best I know is *Wade in the Water: the Wisdom of the Spirituals*, by Arthur C. Jones, published by Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY 10505), 1993 (paperback published in 1999). Terrific bibliography in the back too.

Steve Barnett
Barnett Music Productions

Your query on Sunday about Spiritual Code words
on Choralist strikes a code. There is a site with some
history of spirituals. One bookmarked link in my
library is:

Good luck!

Jim Green

Just saw your Choralist post. One book about this is *Wade in the Water: TheWisdom of the Spirituals* by Arthur C. Jones (Orbis Books, 1999). I found a good web article recently as well but can't seem to locate it now.

Hope all is going well with you!

Warm regards,

Tom Carter

Hello, I am responding to your query on Choralist regarding code words found in spirituals. I just finished singing a concert with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society of a piece called *Let My People Go*, which dissected the spiritual and the Underground Railroad and discussed through narration the importance of each song in the daily life of slaves. While I am by no means an authority based on one concert, the song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was a "map" song that literally told escaping slaves how to follow the Underground Railroad. It was fascinating material.

The arranger of the piece is a man by the name of Donald McCullough. He is the Music Director for the Master Chorale of Washington, DC. If you can get in contact with him, he would probably be an outstanding source of information for you.


John Wright

Try these links for a start..........

Cecil Rigby

The foremost complete source on the subject is *Black Song: The Forge and the Flame (The Story of How the Afro-American Spiritual Was Hammered Out)*by John Lovell, Jr. Macmillan Publisher, 1972.

All best,

Dr. Cleveland C. Clency

Other sites that I have come across:

And an interesting link to an article by a university professor who is a Civil War specialist:

Read the whole article. The main worth is that he also names two other books toward the end that might be valuable. As far as his views are concerned, you'll need to judge that for yourself.

Brad Hayashi