May 5, 2006
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper is helping to lead efforts in Congress to recognize the African American Spiritual as a national treasure.

"Spirituals are a central part of our musical and religious traditions in Tennessee," Cooper said. "This legislation is one way to officially recognize the contributions spirituals made to our history, culture, and faiths. It also commemorates the healing and hope for freedom that this music represents and continues to inspire today."

House Resolution 790, Recognizing the African American Spiritual as a national treasure, states that spirituals are a powerful and significant form of American music, it also expresses gratitude and honor to the former slaves for their gift and calls upon the President to proclaim the spiritual a national treasure.

As the resolution states, the spiritual is a uniquely American form of music. It originated and evolved between 1619 and 1865 when African-Americans were enslaved. Slaves used their knowledge of the English language and the Christian faith to weave stories of their own survival and desire for freedom into songs. Because slaves were forbidden to speak their native languages and practice their traditional religious beliefs, they relied on their African oral tradition of song and story to communicate and create the musical form now known as the spiritual.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave and one of the leading abolitionists in American history, remarked that spirituals "told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains..."

The text of the resolution states,"Therefore, be it Resolved that the House of Representatives -

(1) recognizes that African American spirituals area poignant and powerful genre of music that have become one of the most significant segments of American music in existence;

(2) expresses the deepest gratitude, recognition, and honor to the former enslaved Africans in the United States for their gifts to our Nation, including their original music and oral history; and

(3) requests that the President issue a proclamation that reflects on the important contribution of African American spirituals to American history, and naming the African American spiritual a national treasure."

Cooper is an original cosponsor of the legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. Other original cosponsors include U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Sanford Bishop, Jr. of Georgia. The resolution has now been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.