Downhome GospelAfrican American Spiritual Activism in Wiregrass Country

Downhome GospelAfrican American Spiritual Activism in Wiregrass Country

Jerrilyn McGregory

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781604737820

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi

Abstract

This book explores sacred music and spiritual activism in a little-known region of the South, the Wiregrass Country of Georgia, Alabama, and North Florida. It examines African American sacred music outside of Sunday church-related activities, showing that singing conventions and anniversary programs fortify spiritual as well as social needs. In this region African Americans maintain a social world of their own creation. Their cultural performances embrace some of the most pervasive forms of African American sacred music—spirituals, common meter, Sacred Harp, shape-note, traditional, and contemporary gospel. Moreover, the contexts in which African Americans sing include present-day observations such as the Twentieth of May (Emancipation Day), Burial League Turnouts, and Fifth Sunday. Rather than tracing the evolution of African American sacred music, this ethnographic study focuses on contemporary cultural performances, almost all by women, which embrace all forms. These women promote a female-centered theology to ensure the survival of their communities and personal networks, and function in leadership roles that withstand the test of time. Their spiritual activism presents itself as a way of life. In Wiregrass Country, “You don’t have to sing like an angel” is a frequently expressed sentiment. To these women, “good” music is God’s music regardless of the manner delivered.