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Public Statements

Recognizing The African American Spiritual As A National Treasure

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COOPER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from California for yielding.

I would like to lend my voice and praise of the African American spiritual and a group that I consider to be the leading practitioners of today and for the last 135 years, namely the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

As the Representative from Nashville, Tennessee, I have the honor of representing Fisk University, which, under the able leadership of President Hazel O'Leary, is achieving new heights and excellence. The Fisk Jubilee Singers have been there since 1871, singing some of the most beautiful music in the world and a music that is laden with a God-given message.

No other music that I am familiar with covers the range from agony to inspiration, from the depths of human misery and despair all the way up to religious bliss. This is remarkable music, and I would suggest to you if you haven't heard the Fisk Jubilee Singers sing it under the able direction of Dr. Paul Kwami, you have not fully lived. This is a truly remarkable group and a remarkable inspirational message.

So let's praise today the anonymous African American genius that has allowed these songs to flourish and survive some of the toughest conditions on our planet, and let's honor groups like the Fisk Jubilee Singers that keep that tradition alive and fresh for each new generation. Yes, Mr. Speaker, this is truly a national treasure. We need to honor and preserve it and spread its wonderful message all around the world. The African American spiritual is part of God's great heritage.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud that today this House will honor one of America's oldest and most unique cultural treasures, the African American spiritual. No music in the world communicates as much as the African American spiritual. It is music borne of suffering. Music that expresses anguish, unity, and hopeful transcendence. Our reverence and deep gratitude for this music is only surpassed by our shame over the conditions that gave it rise. What we are doing today is wholly appropriate--and long overdue.

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly proud to represent Fisk University, a fine American college with a tremendous sense of history and purpose. Fisk was founded in the wake of the Civil War to educate all students, regardless of color. It was a costly and controversial mission, and in order to keep the school's doors open, a group of students embarked on a fundraising tour in October 1871. This choral ensemble soon became known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. They earned renown all over the world, singing for U.S. presidents and poets, European royals and American intellectuals alike.

But most of all, Mr. Speaker, in their 135 years of existence, the Fisk Jubilee Singers have exposed people across the globe to the African American spiritual. They have reminded us all of our country's shared history, and they have told, in vivid word and tune, the story of a People. From ``Wade in the Water'' to ``Go Down, Moses,'' and many songs between and since, the African American spiritual is a vital piece of American culture. Today we honor that tradition and those groups who keep it alive--groups like the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

The word ``jublilee,'' Mr. Speaker, rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, came to signify the proclamation of freedom from slavery. Today let this House rededicate itself to that powerful message and to those who have lifted their voices to express the pain of bondage and redemptive promise of freedom--of jubilee--throughout our Nation's history.


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