After slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, African-Americans could no longer be held in bondage. In an economic sense, however, most African Americans were still chained to plantations in what was known as sharecropping. Plantation owners would divide up their land, allowing former slaves to live on a plot of land and farm it, in exchange for a portion of their harvest. In addition, owners would provide sharecroppers the tools, supplies, and food they needed on credit. At the end of each year, however, many sharecroppers found themselves in debt to the owner for all that he had borrowed throughout the year. If former white slave owners could not own black people legally, then they would control them economically.
The sharecropping culture spawned a style of music known as the blues. In reality, the blues was just a modified form of the songs that had been sung in the south for generations. Instead of the call-and-response field songs of the slave era, a lone sharecropper might sing those same melodies while providing his own accompaniment on a guitar. Many of the familiar spirituals were recorded in this simplified style. “I Shall Not Be Moved” is one such example. The statement, “I shall not be moved,” had biblical origins, as it appears in several places in the Book of Psalms. This was a song that provided comfort for African Americans throughout the generations; it was a song sung in the days of slavery, later adopted by sharecroppers into the canon of the blues, and finally repurposed during the Civil Rights movement as a freedom song.
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