One of the most inspirational, hopeful and well-known hymns was written by African-American Wallace Willis, “Uncle Wallace”, who was a slave born to a Choctaw Indian, “#Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” His inspiration to write the hymn came as he looked out over a cotton field gazing at the Red River from a distance. It reminded him of the Mississippi River and the plantation his master owned before moving to Doaksville, Oklahoma.
However, some historians believe that Sweet Chariot was actually used as a code for slaves to communicate about escaping to Canada. Slaves would change the lyrics to say “Swing Low Sweet Harriet” a reference to let others know that Harriet Tubman was coming, or in town to lead the Underground Railroad. The song was a sign of hope that someone was coming and one day they would be led to freedom land.
Alexander Reid, a minister at the Old Spencer Academy, Choctaw boarding school, heard Willis singing these two songs and transcribed the words and melodies. He sent the music to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The Jubilee Singers made the song well-known during a tour of the United States and Europe. Listen to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University below perform “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
[brid video=”15812″ player=”3329″ title=”Swing Low Sweet Chariot Fisk Jubilee Singers (1909)”]
Video by: YouTube