Music as Memory: Spirituals, Minstrelsy, and Marching Songs during the Age of Abolitionism


Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) "Negro spirituals": autograph manuscript with annotations, undated.

Higginson wrote extensively on his Civil War experiences in his Army Life in a Black Regiment, published in 1870. He understood the importance of the role that slave spirituals played both as a communication outlet and a means by which slaves resisted oppression and asserted their psychological independence. Higginson helped preserve African American spirituals by transcribing songs and dialect verses that he heard being sung around the regiment’s campfires during his time as colonel.

bMS Am 2101 (28) – Gift of Mary Potter Thatcher Higginson and Margaret Higginson Barney, 1994.