2: Students will hear several selections from the two CD set Songs of the Lower Mississippi Delta.
teacher will play selection #2 from disc #2 Run,
Mary, Run. The selection can be referred to as a coded spiritual, meaning that it is a song that has an additional
meaning beyond the religious meaning that seems to be most evident.
are found at the end of this page and on separate page LYRICS.
on the selection, from liner notes by Matt Hampsey of the New Orleans Jazz
National Historical Park:
Run, Mary, Run
Gioia, in his book Delta Blues, writes
that “black culture has always been rich in coded or buried meanings, inside
jargon, double entendres, and other ways of communicating secretly while in
full view.” “Run, Mary, Run” is an example of an African American spiritual
that employs a Biblical reference while simultaneously suggesting other meanings
inherent in the African American fight for freedom. The song urges one to keep
going in the face of oppression, to overcome slavery through escape or other
means. The lyrics to “Run, Mary, Run” remind the listener that no matter your
circumstance (slavery, in this instance); the right of the tree of life is due
Erica Falls (lead vocals); Bruce Barnes, Phillip Manuel
Matt Hampsey (guitar), John Jones (drums), Donald Ramsey (bass)
After hearing the
selection students should be given or shown a copy of the lyrics.
The following could be
done through whole class discussion, in groups, or individually.
Take the students
through the following conversation, or have them chose or respond to one of
more of the questions in written form.
If done as a
whole class discussion, answers could be typed into a computer document
(perhaps by a student to free the teacher to move about the room and facilitate
discussion). The document could then be saved for later use, or to show
students in other classes as a way to compare different answers by different
If done as small
group discussion, groups could be assigned which would then report back to the
class for a comparison of responses. (If groups are assigned randomly, the site
http://www.random.org/lists/ will create groups for you when you type in a lists
Keep in mind the knowledge about and insights into
slavery that you have gained by reading the slave narrative of Mary Reynolds.
1. What does
this song seem to be about?
Escape from slavery, human rights, religious conversion, eternal life.
2. What might
Mary be running from?
slavery, master, dogs, the futility of earthly life, the Devil.
3. According to
the singer, what should Mary be seeking?
Answer: The Tree of
4. What might
this thing represent?
Escape to freedom in the North, An end to the slave system, Heaven or Eternal
According to the singer, why should Mary be able to
have this thing?
She has a right
To whom else besides Mary does the song say this
answers: Children, People, Everybody, The Slaves, African Americans.
7. How do you
think many Masters would react were they to hear this song being sung by
Answers: With anger and a desire to punish the slaves. Vices of the slaves. By
requiring white ministers chosen by masters to conduct all services (a common
practice in the ante-Bellum south).By banning religious services. They might
not have understood the song and might have thought it was simply a religious
song about heaven rather than a song about escape from slavery. With amusement
at the idea that slaves have rights.
8. In what way
do the lyrics show an attempt to disguise the song as a religious song about
gaining eternal life?
answer: By using the term “Tree of Life” rather than “Freedom” or some other
more obvious term.
9. Whom do you
think is singing the song or saying the words? In other words, who is bringing
this message to the slaves?
answers: A slave preacher, a family member, an abolitionist, an Underground
Railroad operative such as Harriet Tubman or Levi Coffin.
you think could be the consequences to that person of bringing such a message
to the slaves?
answers, depending upon the answer to question #9: Arrest for inciting escape
or slave rebellion, imprisonment, beating, sale away from farm and family.
the lyrics “Come to tell you…” suggest?
person delivering the message is an outsider, such as a newly arrived slave, a
white operative of the Underground Railroad such as Coffin, an escaped slave
operative of the URR such as Tubman.
might a slave owner give to someone making the argument heard in the song, that
the slaves have a right to this thing?
Answers: That slaves have no rights. That making such an argument misleads
slaves and makes them wish for something they are not suited for, such as
freedom. That slaves will be suited to freedom only after a long term of care
and preparation by masters. (This last argument was frequently made by more
intellectually sophisticated masters who claimed that while slaves were human
and so entitled to certain “inalienable rights”, their condition made it
impossible for them to properly exercise those rights, and so freedom would
actually be “harmful to their interests.” In this way some masters presented
themselves to the North as properly caring for the interests of their slaves
rather than oppressing them for economic gain.)
in American history makes the same argument as the one we hear in this song?
Answer: the Declaration
of Independence, in the phrase “All men are created equal and are entitled to
certain inalienable rights, and them being Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of