Beyond the Rhetoric: ‘Amazing Grace’ is about Black Slavery

HarryAlford2

By Harry C. Alford
NNPA Columnist

 

My late mother’s favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace.” Her favorite version was sung by the great Mahalia Jackson. Oh, how I remember listening to her work around the house saying those sweet words. I wonder if she knew the roots of this great song. The author John Newton was a minister during the 1700s from England.

According to Wikipedia, “Amazing Grace is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. Author Gilbert Chase writes that it is ‘without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns,’ and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually. It has had particular influence in folk music, and has become an emblematic African American spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. ‘Amazing Grace’ saw a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s and has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20thcentury, occasionally appearing on popular music charts.”

Who was this John Nelson?

In the song he writes “Amazing Grace! (How sweet the sound); that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” Please take this literally. John Nelson was indeed a vile wretch. He started out as a British naval officer but then turned his sea talents to the evil slave trade from Africa to England and North America. He became a slave trader extraordinaire.

One day while observing his crew whip the slave cargo into submission as they sailed the Atlantic Ocean, he noticed a young girl about the age of 12. She was resisting the rapes and fought with a continual vengeance. When she got the chance she raced and jumped over-board knowing that the shackle around her neck would hang her instantly. She chose that outcome versus slavery.

It immediately struck him and shocked him into reality of how cruel and evil the business he was in. He went to his cabin and wrote his wife, Polly, the words of “Amazing Grace.” They just seemed to flow naturally. As soon as his shipped returned to England, he joined the clergy and became one of the strongest slave abolitionists in the world.

We must wonder just how close the church (clergy) and the evil slave industry were to each other. The answer is very close. In retrospect, the song speaks of forgiveness and redemption being possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered. But in the beginning, it was the church that said slavery was all right with the Lord. In the early 1500s, Cardinal Avery Dulles publicly stated that “Jesus, though he repeatedly denounced sin as a kind of moral slavery, said not a word against slavery as a social institution.” He also claimed that the disciples “Peter and Paul exhort slaves to be obedient in their masters.”

Seventeenth century religious scholars also point out that Jesus Christ makes no negative mentions of slavery in the New Testament. Please keep in mind that Europeans rewrote the New Testament and something slick could have happened (more than likely). The first slave ship from England to America was named “Jesus.” They just didn’t get it.

But wait, it gets worse. In 1441, Portugal sent a ship full of slaves to Pope Martin V for his consideration and blessings. In 1442, the Pope declared it holy and instructed Portugal to get with Spain and fully develop the slave trade to the new world (per J. Henrick Clarke). Previous to this the same Pope authorized a “Crusade” on Africa by European slave traders. By the mid-1500s, millions of Africans were now in bondage in the Caribbean and South America with the English beginning to ramp up their activity in North America. Thus, the world’s greatest Holocaust was begun with the blessings and oversight of European religion.

This holocaust exceeds the Biblical proportions of the Pharaohs. It is truly a blessing from God all mighty that we thrive today after that living hell our forefathers went through. The rapes (race mixing), despair, hatred and excoriating pain for hundreds of years did not completely destroy us. As the great Maya Angelou put into words, “Still we rise!”

There are many more religious songs that have evolved from bondage and pain. Let us use them for our current times and give them the respect they deserve as they helped get us through the worst times the earth has known. It gives me pride that I stand tall as a product of that system that was supposed to have destroyed us once our “purpose” was done.

God is great!

 

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. ®. Website:www.nationalbcc.org Eblast: halford@nationalbcc.org.

###