The Influence of Black Slave Culture on Early America

Essay by KingHigh School, 11th gradeA+, November 1996

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The Black slaves of colonial America brought their own culture from Africa to the new land. Despite their persecution, the 'slave culture' has contributed greatly to the development of America's own music, dance, art, and clothing.


It is understandable that when Africans were torn from their homes and families, lashed into submission , and forced into lifelong slave labor, they would be, on the most part, resentful and angry. Various forms of expression, clandestine yet lucent, developed out of these feelings.

One such form was music. Native African music consisted mainly of wind and string melodies punctuated by hand clapping, xylophones, and drum beats. Along those lines, an early type of slave music was the spiritual, which has its roots in Protestant hymns taught to the slaves. Spirituals were 'long thought to be the spontaneous creation of African-American slaves and the only original folk music of the U.S.'

Spirituals told tales of suffering and struggle, but these true meanings were often hidden. An example is in the song 'Gospel Train' with the lyrics, 'Get on board, little children/There's room for many a-more/The gospel train's a-leavin'...' The 'gospel train' of the song likely represented an escape method, such as the Underground Railroad.

Another type of music distinct to African slaves was gospel. These songs originated in plantation fields as work songs, and were later sung in churches of Black congregations. They were intended to enliven a crowd, and employed bright music and joyful lyrics. Gospel music contributed to the development of musical genres historically considered 'white', such as rock'n'roll and country and western.


Before Blacks came to America, they had their own highly developed religious beliefs. Most cultures believed in one almighty God, and the ideas of good and evil.