Even a Sparrow Matters

It’s Friday and time for a post about another old gospel song.

I have shared several now and hope you have enjoyed them.

This week’s song is one of my husband’s favorites.  He has often performed this song in church services and at “gospel sings.”

The song starts with a question:

Why should I feel discouraged?  Why should the shadows come?  

The song quickly gives the answer:

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

This thought is based on the scripture in Matthew 10:29-30

“Two sparrows sell for a farthing, don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then—you are far more valuable than sparrows.”

While this song was made famous by two different African-American singers,  Ethel Waters and Mahalia Jackson, it was written by a Canadian lady living in Elmira, New York.

In her own words:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We developed a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh 20 years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair.  Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day, while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.’ The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The song ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”

Ethel Waters was born to a teenager who had been raped.  Although she was raised by her grandmother, she took the last name of her father.  She demonstrated her musical talents while very young, singing at the age of five at church.  On her 15th birthday she won an amateur night and began performing in vaudeville in 1917.

In 1953 she sang this song in the movie “Member of the Wedding” and brought the song to the attention of the world.  She loved the song “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and in her later years she often sang it for the Billy Graham crusades.

Mahalia Jackson made the song even more popular when she sang it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.  The song became associated with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said Mahalia did not just sing the song, it was her life story.

Mahalia spoke of the song and its meaning to her:

“When our savior came, now he didn’t come down here just to tell people to believe on him, he healed the sick and he healed the blind, he raised the dead. He did things for people. So salvation and the Word of God can do things for you. It can open doors for you. And I know it can, Studs. Look what it done for me. And my people have–we’re coming along, but my God, we’ve come along so slow till we chokin’.”

For my husband and I, the song has always been a comfort.  No matter what the circumstances of life, we can sing and find joy in the knowledge that God truly loves us and is aware of all we face each day.

 

My First Solo Performance

Continuing my posts on the old gospel songs we used to sing, today I remember the first song I ever performed in public.

As a young girl I took piano lessons and when my father, who was a minister, had speaking engagements he often would have me play and sing something before he spoke.  Although I was shy, I think this experience gave me confidence in appearing before an audience that helped me later as I became a speaker for women’s events and a pastor’s wife.

Just how good my voice and piano playing was remains open to question, but with my red hair in banana curls, I was a hit.

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The first song I learned to play was an old song born in the slave fields of  the southern states.  Although the original author of the spiritual is unknown, it is acknowledged that the song arose from the oral tradition of songs passed from person to person and generation to generation among the plantations of the South.

Imagine being a slave and totally at the mercy of the slave owner.  What kind of life could it be when you were forced to work from dawn to sunset?  When you could be beaten or sold to another slave owner without a chance to even say goodbye to your family?   No promise of freedom – how easy it would be to despair of life.

But somewhere in that life of sorrow and pain many slaves found hope in God.  In spite of their circumstances they clung to the belief that God was in control and they found courage in that belief.

They sang:

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The song was first published in 1927 in the hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New.  Later it was introduced in the USA and became popular with the folk song crowd in the 30’s and 40’s.

Laurie London, a young British singer, released the song in 1957.  It quickly became #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Since then many artists have made recordings of the song, but perhaps one of the most famous (and my favorite)  is Mahalia Jackson’s version.

The verses have changed depending on who was singing the song but this verse was not in my version of the song.  ♥

He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the sinner man in His hands
He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

As I grew up and became more proficient in my music, I left that song behind.  But recently as I have played for the residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes, I have added it back to my selection of songs.

While they sit and listen to the songs I play – when I play this one I am guaranteed that many will join in with me and smiles will be in abundance.

Since I began singing this song again, I added my own verse for the senior citizens.

He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks  in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Psalms 19:1

“Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens.  Isaiah 48:13

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

Check out the other gospel songs I have written about here:

“My” Hymn – Great is Thy Faithfulness

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello to All My WordPress Friends!

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At this time of year I say “Merry Christmas” to all my family and friends who are close by.  For those far away I call, text and send gifts and cards to wish them the best.

But as I have become a follower of many on WordPress and have enjoyed having some follow me, I feel I have gained friends I don’t even know personally.  Reading the posts of many of you has enriched my life – encouraging me, challenging me and sometimes just giving me a much needed laugh.

I have also enjoyed the comments of many of you who follow my blog.

So – to all of you out there in WordPress land, it is my prayer that you have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, or a great Kwanzaa!

Who is Your Super Hero?

We all love super heroes!

  • Superman

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  • Iron Man
  • Spider-Man
  • Batman

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  • Captain America
  • Green Arrow
  • Hulk
  • Aquaman
  • Ant-Man
  • Thor

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And the list could go on and on.

We have a love affair with super heroes.  We dress up like them.  Our children carry backpacks with their images.  We buy comic books, watch movies and TV shows where their daring adventures thrill and entertain us.

But why?

There are probably as many reasons to love super heroes as they are people who love them.  But I think some of the reasons might be:

  • They give us a feeling of safety.  In this world with all its dangers it’s nice to imagine there are heroes who can protect and save our world.
  • We see all about us the struggle of good against evil and we love the idea that good will always overcome evil.
  • They stand up for the little guy – and most of us are little guys who love the idea of someone fighting for us.
  • They give us a sense of hope.  In spite of evil around us, we have hope that good will ultimately triumph.

For me, growing up I loved Batman and Superman.  Something about the idea that these super guys lived ordinary lives only coming to the rescue when danger demanded it.  Yet, never revealing their super hero side to those they lived and worked with.  To me they made them seem somehow not only brave and strong, but humble.  A hero that does not need to be recognized for his good deeds.

In my reading today in Psalms 16:3 I read where the Psalmist mentioned his super heroes.

“The godly people in the land are my true heroes!  I take pleasure in them.”  – NLT

“The holy people in the land are the ones who are worthy of honor; all my pleasure is in them.” –   CJB

That scripture got me thinking.  How many of the “real” heroes do we know about?  How many of the stories of the “real” heroes have we shared with our children?  Who do we (and by example, our children) look to for inspiration and who do we admire?

After all, as much as I loved the stories of Superman and Batman, I knew they were only fantasies and not the real world.  In reality, no super hero is going to jump over the skyscrapers of New York or fly through the air over the Midwest and bring peace and safety to our land.

While we can enjoy these fairy tales, when real trouble comes who are we and our children going to have for an example of dealing with real life difficulties?

Had to ask myself, how many of the true stories of these “real” super heroes do I or my children know?

People like:

  • Amy Carmichael

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  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Jim Elliott
  • Sojourner Truth

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  • William Tyndale
  • Harriet Tubman

Question:  How many of these real heroes do you know – and how many of the stories of  these real heroes have you shared with your children?

Who are your heroes?

 

 

Sojourner Truth – Ain’t I a Woman?

When we first moved to Michigan I was intrigued to find there were many areas in the state where there had been  Underground Railroad activity before the Civil War..  Located close to Canada, Battle Creek was one of the main stops for slaves traveling by foot through Indiana, Detroit and then Canada.

One of the most famous former slaves who became a strong abolitionist and champion of human rights was Sojourner Truth.  She lived in Battle Creek for the last 26 years of her life.  Born in New York State in 1797 and named Isabella, she escaped slavery while in her mid-thirties.

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Promised by her owner, Dumont, he would grant her freedom “if she would do well and be faithful,” she worked for him fulfilling the time he had specified.  When the date came for her freedom,  he refused to let her go.  Feeling she had kept her end of the bargain, she took her infant daughter and escaped.  Later talking about that decision to leave she said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”  It must have been a tough decision because she left her older children behind as they were still legally considered property of Dumont.

The New York Anti-Slavery Law passed in 1799 stipulated that children born to slave mothers were free.  They were required to work for the mother’s master as indentured servnts into their late twenties but then be free.  Dumont ignored that law and sold Isabella’s five-year-old son.  She filed a lawsuit to get him back and was the first black woman to sue a white man in a United States court and win.

After excaping slavery she became a Christian.  In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.  She felt she had an obligation to travel and speak out against slavery and oppression while sharing the news of the Gospel.

Asked to speak at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convetnion in 1851 she spoke out about black women’s rights.  Reporters took down her speech and it has been widely publicized as ‘Ain’t I a Woman?”

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.  I think  that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.  But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say

During the Civil War she helped recruit black soldiers.  Working for the National Freedman’s Relief in DC she encouraged people to donate food, clothes and other supplies to the black slaves escaping from the South.  This bought her to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln who welcomed her to the White House and showed her a Bible he had been given by African Americans in Baltimore.  She was bold enough to ride on whites-only streetcars while in DC.

She spoke to fellow Christians when she asked:  “Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?”

She visited more than 20 states speaking against the evil of slavery.  While speaking to a Quaker group in Battle Creek in 1856, she felt so welcome in this community that she moved here the following year.  At first she lived in a small settlement west of town called Harmonia, moving into Battle Creek in 1867 where she lived until her death in 1883.

Today there is a statute celebrating her in downtown Battle Creek.

 

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Because it was illegal to teach slaves, she never learned to read or write. This is the only known example of her signature which she wrote in an autograph book of a high school student in April 28, 1880.

She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek as well as some of her children.

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You can learn more about this courageous woman in “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth which she dictated to Olive Gilbert.

Detroit Michigan = Motown

Growing up as a teenager in the 60’s I loved the sound of music coming from the studios of the record company Motown in Detroit Michigan.  To me at the time Detroit seemed like a world away.  Little did I know I would one day live just a little over 100 miles from the city.

Today the studio where most of the music of Motown was recorded is a museum.  Called Hitsville USA the museum hosts visitors from around the world who come to see the place where the magic began.

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Looking back now at that time in American it is ironic to me that this record company founded by a black man, Berry Gordy, and featuring black singers should rise to such success at the same time that much of the country still had Jim Crow laws.

Diana Ross told a story of being in New Orleans for a show.  When she stopped to take a drink at a fountain she noticed people all around her staring.  Pleased at first at the thought that she had been recognized by fans, she was soon disappointed to see that their stares were because she was drinking at a fountain marked “for whites only.”

When Gordy took a group of his new artists on a bus tour in the south they stopped for the night at a hotel.  Hot from the long day on the road, they quickly put on their swimming suits and jumped in the pool.  All the whites in the pool just as quickly got of the pool.  After a few minutes when they discovered that the blacks in the pool were Motown artists, they joined them in the pool.

Some of the great artists of this record company that I loved to listen to:

stevie

Stevie Wonder

 

The Supremes

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The Temptations

I especially loved Chubby Checker who started the twist.  My brother would often tease me by singing the one line from the song:

You should see my little sis.  She knows how to rock, she knows how to twist.

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This year Motown celebrates 50 years making music.  Gordy started the business with a family loan of $800 but it quickly grew into a financial success.   It became the most successful independent record company in history and the most successful African-American-owned business in America.

 

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Motown was how it helped to break down racial prejudice.

 

 

Underground Railroad History in Michigan

So excited!  As a lover of American history – both its good and its bad history – I have found that there is a wealth of history on the Underground Railroad in the state where I recently became a resident.

I recently wrote a couple of blogs about statues of African-Americans in the USA.

Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial  and

Denmark Vesey – Leader of Failed Rebellion

I knew there was a statute of Harriet Tubman in New York City.  This statute was dedicated in 2008 and is located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

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However, I was surprised to find out there is not one, but two statutes of Tubman in Michigan.  In researching information on these statutes, I discovered that Michigan was very much involved in the Underground Railroad.

Looking at the map of Michigan it is easy to see why this location would have been perfect for those trying to escape slavery and find freedom in Canada.  Surrounded by three of the Great Lakes – Michigan, Huron and Erie, Michigan’s eastern cities are only a short distance from Canada.

The first monument is a bronze statue of not only Tubman but local conductors of the Underground Railroad, Erastus and Sarah Hussey.  This statue in Battle Creek, Michigan depicts Tubman and the other two conductors leading a group of runaway slaves to safety.   Created in 1993 by sculptor Ed Dwight the W. K. Kellogg Foundation commissioned the work.

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The second statue of Tubman is in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Located in Washtenaw County in Southeast Michigan there are numeous sites connected with the Underground Railroad.

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(Permission for use of this photograph of the sculpture is granted by sculptor Jane A. DeDecker, Loveland, Colorado.  The sculpture of Harriet Tubman was created in 1995 and is an Edition of 7 with one located near the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock Arkansas.)

 

Cass County in Southwest Michigan also offers many sites where the Underground Railroad was conducted by both free blacks and whites.  Slaves fleeing the South passed through Cass County, then on to Battle Creek and Detroit on their way to freedom in Canada.

So – what started as just wanting to see what statutes of African-Americans there were in the USA, I am excited to find I am near to a lot of history of the Underground Railroad.

Looks like I will be busy checking these sites out!  Can’t wait!

And, of course, I will be writing about these sites as I visit them.

Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial

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Crispus Attucks one of five killed in the Boston Massacre

Recently I shared a post about a statue of an African-American that my husband and I found when we were exploring a park in Charleston, North Carolina.  One of my readers wondered how many statues there are in the USA of African-Americans.  That started me on a search to find other statutes honoring them.

As a fan of President John Adams I have often read about the Boston Massacre which occurred on March 5, 1770.  Colonists who were very resentful of the British soldiers  stationed in Boston began to gather and taunt a small group of the soldiers daring them to shoot and pelting them with snow, ice and oyster shells.

As often happens when mobs take action, it appears one of the colonists struck a soldier with a rock and they reacted by firing their muskets into the crowd.  Three Americans were killed instantly and two more suffered wounds from which they soon died.

Attucks was the first colonist to fall and thus became one of the first to lose his life in the cause of American independence.  His body laid in state at Faneuil Hall in Boston until March 8.  Colonists printed pamphlets dubbing the event the “Boston Massacre” and made its victims instant martyrs.  Rather than a mob out of control they became symbols of liberty.  At the time blacks could not be buried in the same cemetery as whites, but in this instance Attucks was buried along with the others killed that night. All five victims were buried in a common grave.

John Adams took quite a chance on any future political career when he defended the British soldiers in court against the charge of murder.  Adams described Attucks as the self-appointed leader of the mob’s attack.

Every year leading up to the Revolutionary War the citizens of Boston observed the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

In 1858 a  “Crispus Attucks Days” was established and a memorial was erected to the five martyrs:  Crispus Attucks, James Caldwell, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray and Samuel Maverick.

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While this is not a statue dedicated to Crispus Attucks alone, it is quite remarkable that, given the attitude of that age toward blacks, that he was buried with the others and included in this memorial.

Ten to 15 black soldiers fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.  Although two of these men were recognized early for their bravery, Salem Poor and Peter Salem, it quickly became clear that while the founding fathers spoke of all men being created equal, they did not include enslaved blacks in that category.  Sadly, the 5,000 to 8,000 blacks who contributed to the cause of liberty both in combatant roles in battle and in noncombatant roles were never given recognition for their service and never granted the liberty the War was supposed to give to all men.

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