STLT#141, I’ve Got a New Name

Y’all, this song brings up the same commentary about aspiration, and the same commentary about cultural appropriation, and the same commentary about gender inclusion, and the same commentary about zipper songs that I’ve offered before and will be compelled to offer again.

And the truth is, I’m too tired to make the same arguments again. I fear this is one of those times when “ditto” is exactly the right answer, resolving in a predictable “use it with care and caution” and, more often than not “I’m not inclined to use it.”

So… all that being said about this spiritual, let me share two thoughts:

First: There’s a different version of this song that is embedded in the old-time gospel tradition that has been covered by countless gospel singers and choruses. It’s rousing and cheery and definitely old school. This is one of my favorites:

Second: I was trying to read a bit about the imagery of Zion in spirituals, and while my first google search didn’t result in much, I did run across Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s piece for the June 1867 Atlantic Monthly, entitled “Negro Spirituals.” A Union officer, Higginson was instrumental in the success and survival of the Port Royal Experiment (Later the Penn School, now the Penn Center) which taught the three R’s and other skills to the runaway and later newly freed people.

Now if you read the article, you will, of course, be confronted with the attitudes of the time – even the most enlightened white person of the day still carried with them a tangible systemic racism. But if you can get beyond that, you’ll find something quite amusing:

Remember when I talked about the encoding of spirituals – that they carried important information about the Underground Railroad? It was key to their survival, even while the white ears who heard the songs just thought they were religious in nature. Well…. Good ol’ Thomas had himself a moment with one of these songs:

“O, Jordan bank was a great old bank !
Dere ain’t but one more river to cross.
We have some valiant soldier here,
Dere ain t, &c.
O, Jordan stream will never run dry,
Dere ain’t, &c.
Dere’s a hill on my leff, and he catch on my right,
Dere ain’t but one more river to cross.”

I could get no explanation of this last riddle, except, “Dat mean, if you go on de leff, go to ‘struction, and if you go on de right, go to God, for sure.”

For sure. Nothing to see here, white man. I know you’re on my side, but there’s nothing to see here. Move along now. For sure.

Heh heh.

Anyway… here’s the lyrics. Make of this song what you will, but be careful and cautious in its use.

I’ve got a new name over in Zion,
I’ve got a new name over in Zion,
I’ve got a new name over in Zion!
It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine,
I declare, it’s mine!

I’ve got a mother over in Zion,
I’ve gat a mother over in Zion,
I’ve got a mother over in Zion!
She’s mine, she’s mine, she’s mine,
I declare, she’s mine!

I’ve got a father over in Zion,
I’ve got a father over in Zion,
I’ve got a father over in Zion!
He’s mine, he’s mine, he’s mine,
I declare, he’s mine!

I’ve got a new life over in Zion,
I’ve got a new life over in Zion,
I’ve got a new life over in Zion!
It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine,
I declare, it’s mine!

Photo is of a path near the Sea Islands, Georgia. No idea if it looked like that 150 years ago, but it’s awfully pretty.

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