Free at Last

22 Jan

We have been celebrating Martin Luther King Day. Obviously, he made it his mission to help the oppressed in this country, and, to understand his struggle and the struggle of others, everyone should visit the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. When I think about Martin Luther King, many things come to mind, but his speeches stand out. His voice. His style. His cadence. Like all great speakers, he could mesmerize his audience and draw them into his message. It was this ability that made the rest of his works possible.

He made many speeches, but two stand out among the rest. King’s last speech shows the weariness of a long struggle and seems to offer a prophecy about his death. Interestingly, he wasn’t going to speak that night but went at the last minute.Martin Luther King

The speech that left an impression in the minds of most Americans and in the pages of history took place during the March on Washington. Thousands of people waited through a long program to hear him speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.Have A Dream

This speech provides a powerful message, but the last part is remembered the most. As a great speaker, Martin Luther King probably designed it that way.

As King finishes, he says, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I have heard those words many times in history classes and on documentaries, but, when I first heard them as a kid, I didn’t grasp the meaning. I was too busy trying to figure out what a spiritual was. Through the years, I have discovered what a spiritual is, and I make sure that my students know what it is, as well.

A spiritual is a religious song that was developed by slaves. Some historians believe that they held hidden messages of escape to freedom, and other historians believe that they were a way to express faith. Many spirituals have been collected through the years, and I had one sung to me when I was a kid.

My dad’s aunt used to rock me while singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Here was a woman who would not admit to her Cherokee descent singing a spiritual developed by slaves to a little white kid. I was up in years when the irony of that struck me.

Anyway, people know the words – Free at Last – from a speech, but people may not know the song. If you are interested, then you can listen to it.

10 Responses to “Free at Last”

  1. Madame Weebles January 22, 2013 at 19:59 #

    What I find deeply bizarre is that people in the UK sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” during soccer and rugby games. I never knew the words to “Free at Last,” thank you for that YouTube link.

    • Rick January 22, 2013 at 20:18 #

      I didn’t know people sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” at soccer and rugby games. Do you have any idea why?

      • Madame Weebles January 22, 2013 at 20:20 #

        When I asked my British friends to explain, they didn’t have any explanation other than “It’s just what we do.”

  2. John S January 26, 2013 at 21:46 #

    “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is also sung by England rugby fans, especially when we are winning! It’s impressive when the majority in the 80,000 stadium are in full voice. Oh, I’ve just noticed one of your previous commenters observed this. It’s not bizarre though when you are participating. Rugby has a real tradition of sing-a-longs. This is one of them.

    • Rick January 26, 2013 at 22:56 #

      I’ve been in a lot of stadiums when the crowd broke out into song, but I never thought that would be a popular one. Do you know why that song is sung?

      • John S January 27, 2013 at 00:37 #

        I’ve no idea. I googled it and still no idea! Mu gues would be that there is a grand tradition of rugby fans (and players in the past) getting very drunk and indulging in sing-songs after games, and somehow it found its way in somewhere and then spread. Probably something to do with all the public schoolboys (ie, private schoolboys!) who grew up having to go to chapel every morning.

      • Andrew Petcher January 20, 2014 at 18:39 #

        Seems plausible –

  3. Rick January 20, 2014 at 16:12 #

    Reblogged this on Surrounded By Imbeciles and commented:

    I promise that an original post is coming soon. However, I thought it fitting to reblog this post on this holiday.

  4. jcalberta January 27, 2014 at 23:25 #

    One the greatest orators of our time.
    With a message to match.

    • Rick January 28, 2014 at 00:04 #

      Without a doubt.

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