During the period directly after the American Civil War, many universities sprung up throughout the South with a single goal: educating “freedmen” – men and women who, only months earlier had been slaves. One of the most famous of these institutions was Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk opened its doors in 1866, but soon ran into financial trouble. By 1871, the school was on the verge of bankruptcy. Unless something changed fast, they’d have to close their doors.
And that’s when the Fisk Jubilee Singers were born.
The group consisted of students, young men and women, many of whom had been slaves themselves – all of whom knew how to do one thing very well: sing. The group began touring America in hopes of raising enough money to keep their school afloat. But unlike the “black minstrel” acts of the day where singers would don blackface and sing derogatory songs about themselves, the Fisk singers remained true to who they were. They dressed in their Sunday best and sang songs of deep, spiritual meaning. Listen to this one; I think you’ll recognize it:
Over the next few years, the Jubilee Singers performed across America and Europe, singing for people like Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant and even Queen Victoria! And their efforts paid off, raising more than enough money to save Fisk University. In fact, they raised so much money that the school built Jubilee Hall in their honor, an historic structure that stands to this day.
What I like so much about these singers is that they didn’t sit on the sidelines. When their school needed help, they took action. When the world expected them to look a certain way, they stunned audiences by rooting themselves in their identity in Christ, using their God-given talents to help others re-think stereotypes. And when the going got rough, this group of singers turned to their Lord for strength.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers have continued on and they still sing their distinctive songs today. I hope their example encourages you as it has me.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.