Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

3/1/2017

Submitted by Peter Infanger - Director of Music at First UMC Starkville
and Director of the Men of State at Mississippi State University

Photo right: Starkville District Superintendent Embra Jackson (left) served as narrator for the Mississippi State University Male Chorus Black History presentation. Photo from Starkville District office.
On Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, the Men of State -- the all-male chorus at Mississippi State University -- presented the choral department's annual "Reflect and Rejoice" program, a celebration of African-American history through music. This year's presentation, narrated by Starkville District Superintendent Embra Jackson, was entitled, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and explored the use of African-American slave songs and spirituals in the communication system used by Tubman and other "conductors" of the railroad.

The impetus for the program's subject came from a reading of two important books; the more recent of those, The Underground Railroad by prize -- winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, presents the Underground Railroad as no mere metaphor -- engineers and conductors operating a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil -- but as a very real telling of the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on a history we all share.

 
The other book explored as a prelude to the presentation of this program was John Howard Griffin's 1959 diary telling what happened to him - from the outside and within himself -- as he conducted a social experiment using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown so, as a privileged Southern white man of the 1950s, he could experience what it was like to live in the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man. Black Like Me was given to each of the members of the Men of State at the end of the Fall semester in the hopes the men of the choir would read it and have a better understanding of the ways that life in American has -- or hasn't -- changed in the fifty years since it was written.
 
Dr. Embra Jackson did a masterful job of giving examples of how African-American spirituals like "Go Down, Moses" and "Wade in the Water" and "Lord, If I Got My Ticket" served as signals to those waiting to ride the Underground Railroad; whether or not it was safe to approach a "station" or if it was necessary to hide in a nearby creek or pond to mask the human scent from the slave-catchers scouring the woods for human prey. Embra also shared some poignant remarks about his experiences as a student activist in his Tougaloo College days and concluding with remarks related to the story of Emmett Till that have been in the news of late.
 
The evening was capped with calls to action -- not necessarily the action of activists but, rather, the actions of individuals who are going to change the way they think about those who do not look like them; the actions of ones who are going to work hard at getting to know those with whom they work, not because they are different from each other but because of the things they have in common -- sweat, dreams and hopes, a shared humanity and respect for each other and the desire for a better world fashioned along the Biblical principles expressed by the prophet Micah when he said: and what does the Lord require of you but to DO justice, to LOVE kindness, and to WALK humbly with your God?
 
To hear some of the music presented on the referenced program go to www.growasdisciples.com and watch the video of morning worship at Starkville FUMC from Sunday, February 12, 2017.