As we know, the first immigrants in this nation were from England, landing on our shores of what we now call the Commonwealth of Virginia on April 26, 1607. (Yes, I am using the word “immigrants.”) In 1608, more European immigrants arrived, including Polish, German, and Slovak craftsmen. In the year 1619, Virginia hosted a new set of immigrants, brought here on a Dutch Man of War. This ship held twenty Africans who had endured inhuman conditions in transit, and who would become the property of white men on arrival in what we now call “The Land of the Free.” These men and women, in the words of African-American composer and conductor, André Thomas, would become “the building stone of a new nation.”

February has been designated “Black History Month” so that all people might examine the extraordinary sacrifices of our African-American brother and sisters – and so that we might celebrate their contributions to society and the nation. Just as Africans were singled out for centuries as slaves and as people deprived of rights, we now have the opportunity to single out African-Americans as NOT being slaves and disenfranchised people. So far, we are about 150 years into reversing and remediating 250 years of slavery. And we are only 56 or so years into the process of reversing and remediating 345 years of racial segregation.

Black History Month is a time that musicians can help us understand the plights, the sorrows, the prayers, and the aspirations of African-Americans through music that they gave to us, namely the “Negro Spiritual.” On February 13, I will be joined by Chris Ahart, tenor and Seth Roberts, baritone as we delve into the words and music of several great spirituals in our Sanctuary at 6:15 p.m for our TFC-Adults program. On February 20 (same time and place), noted hymnologist, Dr. Paul Richardson, recently retired music professor at Samford University, will take us deeper into the life and meaning of the spiritual.

In the words of the African-American composer, organist, pianist and music professor, R. Nathaniel Dett, “The love of nature, the desire for companionship, the pain of parting from relatives or friends, the joy of reunion, faith in a Divine Providence, a fervent but never despairing cry for deliverance of soul and body from fetters both concrete and intangible, the ballading of remarkable events, — all this has been the common experience of bards of all races and times.” Let us understand what divided us, and let us join in cherishing what we all share.

Written by Bob Gallagher