If you're asking whether the enslaved fought back during slavery, you may have inadvertently drank the proverbial Western kool-aid and thought we merely served the master with a shuffle, a smile and a song. Well, the truth is, while we were doing back breaking work in the fields and in the house, we often, "Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Freedom." That's the title of the Negro Spiritual that inspired the stunning cover image of this great collection of paintings that were inspired by what I'd call the soundtracks of our lives. The author, artist, entrepreneur, historian, and yes, Electrical Engineer Aaron Henderson is the director of this masterwork of arts.
"Fight On" is the pictorial soundtrack of our spiritual lives as a people."
As a musician who was raised in a household of the great choir director and songstress Irving and Ragina Bunton respectively, I couldn't help but start to hum the songs that inspired each painting viewed in the newly published book, "Fight On - A Visual Interpretation of African American Spirituals." I invite you to open a new browser and type in Youtube.com. Do a search for each spiritual mentioned in the book as you are flipping through the pages. Each painting is like a magical key to gain entry into the depth and breadth of each song.
Some songs have been popularized by our most gifted singers. Listed below is the page in the book that corresponds to each spiritual with a suggested artist to listen to. Here are a few of my picks:
The enslaved fought back against slavery through encoded messages oftentimes embeded into song.
Imagine walking through the halls of an art gallery that comes alive with music. As your eyes take in the rich colors and deep expressions of the depicted characters, somehow even your ears seem to be activated by the canvas. As you read the title of the work, a distant memory comes into focus and you become instantly transported to the time period within the frame. This describes the feeling that is experienced when flipping through the pages of "Fight On - A Visual Interpretation of African American Spirituals" by Aaron Henderson.
The Bibliography is a curated list of over fifty books that were likely not covered or mentioned in your typical cookie-cutter structured history class. The average American who attended a public school, had textbooks that were outdated due in part to the limited budget received and more impactfully because of the myths promulgated therein. You've heard the saying that if you repeat a lie long enough, people will believe it. Well, the myth of 1492 that states that Christopher Columbus somehow "discovered" land where people already stood, and that enslaved people who were less than human plays like a song on a broken record in America's educational system. Thankfully, the truth about our history, African history, has been preserved in the arts, books, orally, and in our songs commonly called, "Negro Spirituals."
The Negro Spirituals contain sonic codes that are hidden in plain sight.
Only a highly intelligent and creative people could have invented sonic codes hidden in plain sight. One of "Fight On"'s contributors, Vincent L. Winbush calls it "scriptualizing." In his thought provoking essay, "Spirituals as Performance of Scripture," he discusses the power behind the lyrics/scripture that speaks directly to our inner existence/psychological climate, He states that painful memories and trauma left lurking and fermenting behind a facade can begin to heal only when we "rend the veil" and unite our inner and outer worlds. Drawing from the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Winbush adds great texture and context to the feelings that surface while entranced by the paintings in the book. Other contributors include: Dr. Frederick Taylor and Dr. William E. Colvin,
It is clear that the organization of the book was expertly designed to stir up a balance of emotions from the reader. Hollywood movies for example, are over-sensationalized to emphasize the helplessness and fear that were an extremely painful part of our experience. However, "Fight On" provides the missing pieces that showcase the mountain top heights of our humanity in spite of heinous conditions during enslavement. Thoughts of Freedom, Escape, and a crystal clear vision of hope provides a more well-rounded glimpse into our experience. The development team of this book which included the expertise of Ako Mutota as consultant and copy editor were right on point in adding this important detail.
Viewing and experiencing Henderson's painting that was inspired by the cynical comedy of "I Apologize" by Oscar Brown Jr. is an 8th wonder of the world to behold... I will leave it right there in hopes you will be inspired to purchase the book to see for yourself.
"Fight On" provides the missing pieces of our history that showcase the mountain top heights of our humanity in spite of heinous conditions during enslavement.
The unconquerable spirit of our Ancestors is captured in the art and song from which it was inspired in each page of "Fight On.". Most notably are "Every Time I feel the Spirit," and "I Apologize." For those, I had to smile in knowing that those paintings capture the sweetest part of our being in my opinion. Sometimes it is hard to conceive that anything would remain of our spirit after examining a peep into the degree of viciousness and hate that was heaped upon our ancestors . It would seem that the spirit would be permanently broken. But, hidden deep inside was the strongest desire to carry on in spite of it all. "Fight On - A Visual Interpretation of African American Spirituals" is a beautiful whole-hearted tribute to our legacy. Hopefully you are intrigued enough to purchase a copy for yourself. You'll be glad you did and likely inspired to share it with others as it is a coffee table sized hardcover keepsake book for the generations to cherish.