Hymns and Scripture

Using Hymnody: One way to become more aware of the suffering of the captives, as well as the struggle of those working to end slavery, might be to sing the songs that sustained and inspired them–songs and hymns used by generations of people engaged in the struggle for civil rights. Sing them to lift up the struggle for liberty and justice for all of God’s people.

Hymn Suggestions

Listed In Chronological Order:  NCH = New Century Hymnal; PH = Pilgrim Hymnal

Songs of those Oppressed as Slaves “Negro Spirituals” dating from before the Civil War
  • “When Israel Was in Egypt’s Land” (NCH 572; PH 428). While ostensibly singing about Moses, the slaves were also singing of their desire to be free and their hope for deliverance.
  • “There Is a Balm In Gilead” (NCH 553). Sung to encourage those who were feeling especially weighed down by the burdens of their captivity
  • “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” (NCH 454; PH 353). Many slaves did not want to adopt the religion of their captors, yet for many others the Christian faith was a great source of internal strength.
  • “Steal Away” (NCH 599). A song with the coded meaning “steal away home” meant to run away to freedom (either on your own or via the underground railroad).
Hymns of those Opposed to Slavery Late 18th and early 19th century
  • “Amazing Grace” (NCH 547). Written in 1779 by John Newton, after his conversion from being captain of vessels engaged in the slave trade, before England outlawed the slave trade.
  • “Once to Every Man and Nation” (PH 441). Written to urge Americans (in the North and possibly some Southerners) to take a stand against slavery.
  • “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” (NCH 610; PH 443). Written during the Civil War by Julia Ward Howe (who in 1852 had written “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), it became known as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Civil Rights Hymns Early 20th century
  • “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (NCH 593). Written by James Weldon Johnson in 1921, this hymn is sometimes referred to as the Black National Anthem.
  • “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (NCH 472). Written by Tommy Dorsey in 1932 following the death of his wife, this became a favorite hymn of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “We Shall Overcome” (NCH 570). This was the favorite song of the Civil Rights movement of the 60s (author unknown) and has been used in many countries in their own various civil rights struggles.
South African Freedom Songs sung by blacks and whites in the long struggle against Apartheid. Late 20th Century and thereafter, offering hope and courage in the continuing work for justice
  • “We Are Marching in the Light of God” (NCH 526).
  • “We Shall Not Give Up the Fight” (NCH 437).

Hymns Suggestions researched and compiled by the Rev. Mr. Thomas Howard, a retired pastor
  • The Hymn Amistad  Text: Rev. Ned W. Edwards, Jr. Tune: National Hymn (George Warren, 1828-1902)

The hymn text, inspired by Isaiah 61 and Jesus' fulfillment of that scripture, recounts the uprising on the Amistad, the experience of the Mende in Farmington, CT, the building of the present day Freedom Schooner, and the hope for the continued work toward justice and equality by the church of Jesus Christ. The text is wedded to the tune National Hymn because of its power, dignity and the fact that it was composed for the hymn text "God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand" (Daniel Crane Roberts, 1841-1907), which was written to serve New York City’s centennial celebration of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States in 1887. Our Constitution allowed the Mende to be set free despite the will of the governing officials at the time, allowing justice to prevail. A version of this hymn was used to dedicate the Amistad Chapel in the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland in May 2000.

God of the Mendi, stolen from their home,
Bound, beaten, chained, their futures bought and sold;
In fear they rose and claimed their liberty.
Great God of ours, you set the captives free.

God of the faithful, offering their hands,
Building a home and giving of their land;
Bound by desire of friendship to impart.
Great God of ours, you bind the broken heart.

God of the ship that sails again today,
Justice and hope are cargo on its way.
Caught on the wind, your Spirit as its guide.
Great God of ours, may you be glorified.

God of the church, whose work is not yet done;
Grant your desire, that we may all be one.
In this abode, your covenant we raise,
Great God of ours, in righteousness and praise.

God of all worlds, we put our trust in you,
Seeking to love as Christ would have us do;
Open our hearts to stranger and to guest
That we may be your oaks of righteousness.

Words to the hymn Amistad © 2000 by Ned W. Edwards, Jr., Farmington, CT. All rights reserved.
One-time reprint permission is granted to churches & worshipping communities to use in a service of worship.

Scripture Suggestions with Accompanying Hymn Selections

Genesis 1:27 – All of humankind is created equally in the image of God.
“Shadow and Substance” NCH 398
“O God, We Bear the Imprint of Your Face” NCH 585

Genesis 4:8-11 – The story of Cain and Abel: the unity and harmony of God’s creation is broken by sin.

Exodus 1:1-14; 3:7-12; 7:8-11:10; 9:1,13; 10:3; 12; 14:21-31; 20–
God leads the Israelites out of bondage.
“In Egypt under Pharaoh” NCH 574
“Crashing Waters at Creation” NCH 326
“When Israel Was in Egypt’s Land” PH 428, NCH 572

Deuteronomy 10:12-16 – Love and serve God and keep God’s commandments.
“Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” PH 353, NCH 454

Psalm 55:6 – “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest!”
“Some Glad Morning I’ll Fly Away” NCH 595

Isaiah: 58: 6-11 – “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”

Isaiah 61 – “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”
“Come, Share the Spirit” NCH 62
“Arise, Your Light Is Come” NCH 164

Jeremiah 8:18-22; 46:11 – “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick…
Is there no balm in Gilead?”
“There Is a Balm in Gilead” NCH 553

Amos 5:24 – “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream”
“Let Justice Flow like Streams” NCH 588

Micah 6:6-8 – “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

Matthew 5:1-11 – The beatitudes
“Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit” NCH 180
“Blest Are the Pure in Heart” PH 214

Luke 4: 16-30 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives.”
“Through All the World, a Hungry Christ” NCH 587

John 8: 31-36 – Through Christ, God offers a way of freedom from the bondage of racism.
“We Shall Overcome” NCH 570

John 17:21 – Jesus Christ revealed the importance of Christian unity and diversity, praying,“That all my be one…”
“Eternal Christ, Who, Kneeling” NCH 390
“You Walk along Our Shoreline” NCH 504

Romans 12:21 – “Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
“We Shall Overcome” NCH 570

1 Corinthians 12:13 – “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of the one spirit.”
“In Christ There Is No East or West” PH 414, 415; NCH 394, 395

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – “Listen, we will not all die, but we will all be changed.”
“Steal Away” NCH 599

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 – “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan…”
“My Eyes Have Seen the Glory” PH 443, NCH 610

2 Corinthians 13:11 – “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
“We Shall Overcome” NCH 570

Galatians 3: 23-29 – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female: for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
“In Christ There Is No East or West” PH 414, 415; NCH 394, 395

Galatians 4:21-5:1 – The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

Galatians 5 – “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Ephesians 2:14-22 – “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
“In Christ There Is No East or West” PH 414, 415; NCH 394, 395
“Called as Partners in Christ’s Service” NCH 495

Ephesians 6:5-9 – “Slaves obey your earthly masters.”

Colossians 3:11 – “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

Philemon 1:1 – 25 – Paul writes to Philemon regarding Onesimus, a slave who had emancipated himself. Paul does not challenge the institution of slavery, but expects Philemon to receive Onesimus with charity.