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Marsh, J. B. T. The Story of the Jubilee Singers; With Their Songs . Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co, 1880. [format: book], [genre: history; travelogue]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
IN 1875 Fisk University completed its first decade. During the ten years, thousands of young people had been gathered in its classes. Its students, in turn, had taught tens of thousands in Sabbath and day schools, communicating far and wide among the freed people its uplifting influences. It had conquered the respect of those who began by hating it. It had opened to the vision of vast numbers of colored people new possibilities of Christian attainment and manly achievement. It had demonstrated the capacity of that despised race for a high culture. It had raised up the Jubilee Singers, who had done great things for their people in breaking down, by the magic of their song, the cruel prejudice against color that was everywhere in America the greatest of all hindrances to their advancement; who had raised the money to buy a new site for the University, and erect on it a substantial and beautiful hall to take the place of the tottering hospital barracks; and who stood on the threshold of its second decade as its special and providential reliance in laying the foundation of its needed endowments.
This year was marked by several events of special interest. Hitherto the University had been without
a president. Its work had been outlined and guided in its general features by the American Missionary Association. It was felt that the time had come when a capable president should take charge of it, supported by a fully-organized faculty. For this place, Rev. E. M. Cravath was the unanimous first choice of its trustees and friends. More than any one else he had had the responsibility of its establishment; and, during his subsequent service for several years as field secretary of the Association, the burden of planning its work and providing for its wants had rested chiefly upon him. Educated at anti-slavery Oberlin, and identified all his life with anti-slavery effort, he was felt to be specially adapted and providentially guided to the place. And as soon as events shaped so that he could well be spared from those duties, he resigned his secretaryship in the Association and entered upon the new work.
In 1875, also, the University graduated its first college class. It had taken some of them, ten years before, with little more than a knowledge of the alphabet, and carried them through extended preparatory studies and a thorough classical course, to the point where a rigid examination awarded them the degree of A. B. At graduation one was chosen instructor in the University, and others found responsible positions awaiting them as teachers in the city schools at Nashville and Memphis. Two were the sons of an unlettered freed woman, who had consecrated every spare dollar of her hard earnings, for these ten years, to aid her boys in getting an education. It was a proud hour for her when they stepped upon the stage to receive their diplomas
a scene that it would have done the heart of every contributor to Fisk University good to see.
The completion and occupancy of Jubilee Hall was another of the important events of 1875. Both in its architectural appearance and substantial construction of the most durable materials, as well as in its admirable adaptation to the permanent uses of the University, it is all that could be desired. Its walls are of brick, with stone foundations and facings; every part of the work upon it has been done in the most thorough manner, and it is believed to be the best building of its kind in the Southern States. Crowning a commanding eminence overlooking the capital city of Tennessee and the beautiful encircling valley of the Cumberland, it stands, not only an enduring and most fitting monument to the toils and triumphs of the Jubilee Singers, and to the sympathy and generosity shown them by the Christian public on both sides of the Atlantic, but a perpetual inspiration to the freed people as they struggle out of the slough of ignorance and social proscription in which emancipation found them.
But the very success of these years had increased the demands upon the University faster than it had supplied the means of meeting them. It had achieved results that demonstrated the necessity of its existence and guarantied its permanence. But its needs were greater than ever. Its new site and the new hall standing upon it, was simply the solid foundation for future growth, and it was entirely without the means, within itself, of supporting, to say nothing of enlarging, its work. Money was urgently needed for endowments from which to
provide for the support of teachers and to aid earnest, struggling students to educate themselves for Christian work as teachers and ministers of the gospel. In the poverty of the freed people the revenue from tuition fees could be but a trifle at the best, compared with its expenses.
The continual financial pressure throughout the country caused a serious shrinkage in the receipts of the American Missionary Association. Many who were wont to give liberally to such objects were unable to do so longer. Urged by these pressing necessities, and convinced that God pointed out the way by his providences, the Jubilee Singers, after a few months of rest, again took the field. Mr. White's health was still so seriously impaired that it was impossible for him to undertake such exhausting work as was involved in the entire care of a concert campaign, and Prof. T. F. Seward, of New York, who first wrote down the Jubilee Songs and had been deeply interested in the work, was fortunately secured to share the labor.
A series of concerts was given during the winter and spring in the larger cities of the North, preliminary to another tour abroad. Some of them were very successful, but the net receipts of the winter's work were not large. The "times" were hard; the weather was unusually cold and unfavorable; and rival companies, some of whom appropriated not only the name, but even the testimonials belonging to the Jubilee Singers, had taken the field, and, to a considerable extent, had trampled down the harvest where they had not the ability to gather it.
On May 15th the company, reorganized to consist
of ten members, sailed for England in the Cunard steamer Algeria. It was a sign of progress that more than one steamship line, which had refused them cabin accommodation two years before, offered reduced rates if they would accept them now. Mr. White accompanied them to give, so far as his health would permit, the counsel and assistance which his previous experience made so valuable, and President Cravath followed in the autumn to take charge of the general interests of the enterprise, and to reinforce the working force when the heavy drafts of the busy season began.
The announcement that they would be present and sing a few of their slave-songs at the annual meeting of the Freedmen's Missions Aid Society, in the City Temple, London, Monday evening, May 31st, was to many of their friends the first news of their return from America; but it was news that traveled quickly, and it drew an audience that not only packed every inch of space in that capacious church, but filled the large lecture hall below with an overflow meeting.
So great was the gathering about the building that to get even to the doors was a formidable task, and the chairman, Lord Shaftesbury, was delayed some minutes in reaching the platform by the difficulty of penetrating the dense crowd that filled the corridors. In ascending the stand his eye caught sight of the Singers in the gallery, whom he greeted with a cordial salutation, and in his remarks on taking the chair he said: "I am delighted to see so large a congregation of the citizens of London come to offer a renewal of their hospitality to these noble
brethren and sisters of ours, who are here to-night to charm us with their sweet songs. They have returned here, not for anything in their own behalf, but to advance the interests of the colored race in America, and then to do what in them lies to send missionaries of their own color to the nations spread over Africa. When I find these young people, gifted to an extent that does not often fall to the lot of man, coming here in such a spirit, I don't want them to become white, but I have a strong disposition myself to become black. If I thought color was anything if it brought with it their truth, piety, and talent, I would willingly exchange my complexion tomorrow. In the name of this vast mass of British citizens, and, I may say, in behalf of thousands and tens of thousands who are absent, we receive them with joy again to our shores, and will do all that in us lies to advance their holy cause; and, besides our prayers and hospitality, we will do as Joseph did to his brethren, send them back loaded with all the good things of Egypt." Rev. Dr. Parker, pastor of the City Temple, reechoed these words of welcome in an eloquent address, and the occasion could not have been more of an ovation to the Singers than if it had been planned for that purpose.
The next evening they gave their opening concert to a large and very enthusiastic audience in Exeter Hall, with an address full of a genuine English welcome from the chairman, Rev. Ll. D. Bevan.
At this time Messrs. Moody and Sankey were in the midst of their great work in London. The Singers had not been in the city an hour before a request came from Mr. Moody that they would take part in
the service that afternoon at the Haymarket Opera-house. The next day he desired them to sit on the platform, and sing "Steal Away" after the sermon. That remarkable series of meetings at the West End was drawing to a close. The house was packed in every part with an audience representing much of the wealth and rank of London; upon whom Mr. Moody urged the claims of Christ in a discourse of peculiar tenderness and power. At its close the great congregation bowed, with tearful faces, in silent prayer. Soon the soft, sweet strains of "Steal Away" rose from the platform, swelling finally into a volume of conquering song that seemed to carry the great audience heavenward as on angels' wings. The effect could not have been happier had the song been written for the sermon, or the sermon for the song.
Thereafter their services were in almost constant demand in the London meetings. For several weeks they declined nearly all applications for concerts, in order that they might be free for this work. After Messrs. Moody and Sankey had closed their services at Bow-Road Hall to go to Camberwell, the meetings were continued at the former place, with preaching each night by the Rev. Mr. Aitken or Mr. Henry Varley, and singing by the Jubilee choir. The attendance was so large, on weekday as well as on Sunday evenings, that hundreds were sometimes turned away, even after a congregation of ten or twelve thousand had crowded into the hall.
After these meetings closed, Mr. Aitken gave them a letter testifying to his misgivings at first in employing in such a work an agency that might seem
so sensational, but cordially declaring that his misgivings were quite at fault, and that he should carry away most pleasing recollections of their work together. In recognition of their services in these meetings, a subscription of over £500 was made for Fisk University by a few members of the committee having the meetings in charge. Mr. Moody gave them an open letter to his friends everywhere, warmly commending their mission; and before leaving the country purchased and presented to each of the party a duplicate of that copy of Bagster's Bible, whose almost constant use in his meetings he has made so famous and popular.
Nothing could have better prepared the way for their special work; nothing could have better prepared them for it than these revival labors. The religious papers carried reports of the meetings throughout the kingdom, and wherever they went thereafter, the great Christian heart of England gave them a specially fraternal greeting.
During July and August, months usually unfavorable to concert receipts, the appointments at various places in Wales and the South of England drew, generally, good audiences. It was, however, after the fall work began in Scotland that it was most manifest how wide-spread and hearty was the interest with which their return was awaited. Applications for concerts poured in from every quarter of the kingdom. Full houses met them everywhere. At Inverness, where they appeared under the patronage of the provost, magistrates, and other leading citizens, the Music Hall was much too small to accommodate the eager crowds that thronged the doors on two successive evenings.
At Aberdeen, Lord Kintore was active in efforts to make their visit a great success. At Dundee, Provost Cox presided at their concert, and the receipts were larger than on their first visit to that city in the high tide of enthusiasm two years before. At the first concert in Glasgow, given in the Kibble Crystal Palace, the receipts for tickets, and the profits on the sale of books for the one evening, amounted to nearly £325. At Edinburgh, where the chair was taken on one evening by Lord Provost Falshaw, hundreds were turned away from the doors of the Music Hall, even after all standing-room had been exhausted.
The religious effect of their concert-work was never more gratifying nor manifest. Several of their new songs, particularly, seemed to have a peculiar power in reaching the hearts of their audiences. After one of the concerts in Glasgow, an unknown friend placed £15 in the hands of one of the Singers, as a contribution to their fund, accompanied with the request that they would sing "I've been Redeemed" at every concert they should give in Great Britain. Their singing of this and other hymns at the Glasgow Evangelistic Conference, in October, was spoken of in all reports as one of the special attractions of that inspiring meeting. Their services were sought also at the similar Conference in Dublin a few weeks later. This was their first visit to Dublin; and at these meetings, and at the concerts which followed, Irish enthusiasm was thoroughly enkindled. Mr. Russell, known through the three kingdoms for his efficient services to the temperance cause, gave most valuable assistance in
"working up" the concerts; and at the first concert in the Exhibition Palace it was estimated that fifteen hundred applicants for tickets were turned away after every seat in the great hall was filled.
Religious meetings with the Sunday-school children, on Saturday or Sunday, came to be, also, a common and important feature of their work. Admission was always given by free tickets, previously distributed to a certain proportion of teachers and scholars, and the exercises consisted of singing alternated with short addresses. At Aberdeen, 4,000 teachers and scholars filled the Music Hall at nine on Sunday morning, and over 5,000 gathered in the Drill Hall, Edinburgh, at ten o'clock on a Sunday. At Liverpool the tabernacle erected for Mr. Moody's meetings one of the largest ever built for his services was crowded by over 12,000 children, representing over ninety different schools. Each of these meetings, like others in smaller cities, were occasions of sweet and solemn interest that will be long remembered.
Nor was this visit any less marked than the first one for the social attentions shown to the Singers. The Earl of Kintore, Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeen-shire, entertained them at his ancestral seat, Keith Hall, whose walls were laid before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, and made them his debtors by the memory of the delightful day spent there and by subsequent kindly attentions. Their visit to Chester brought a pleasant note from Mr. Gladstone, recalling their former acquaintance, and inviting them to spend an afternoon at Hawarden Castle, his country home in North Wales, and
proposing to send his carriages to meet them at the railway station two miles away. A memorable afternoon was spent in social intercourse with the great statesman and his family, in the inspection of his art and literary treasures, and in wandering about the ruins of the older castle, which dates back to the days of Edward the First. No one could have had a more gracious welcome to the hospitalities of this historic English mansion. The Duke and Duchess of Argyll also invited them, for the second time to Argyll Lodge, where they met a company of distinguished guests, including the Princess Louise, on terms of pleasantest intercourse and most friendly interest.
It was in the midst of this year's work, and when Jubilee Hall had been but a little time occupied, that the need of another building at Fisk University became so apparent and imperative as to demand immediate action. The ordinary earnings of the Singers were all needed in meeting the other pressing necessities of the school, and much prayerful deliberation was had concerning ways and means for supplying this want. It was finally decided to undertake to raise, by subscription, £10,000 for the election of a companion building to Jubilee Hall, which should be called with obvious fitness and significance "Livingstone Missionary Hall." It was when this decision was but just reached, and before any general announcement had been made of the plan, that a check was received from the Baroness Burdett-Coutts for two per cent of the entire sum, £200. And Mrs. Agnes Livingstone Bruce, Dr. Livingstone's daughter, the
loved "Nannie" of whom he so fondly and proudly speaks in his journal, testified to her interest in the Singers, and to her appreciation of this tribute to her father, by a handsome subscription. Soon after this the movement was publicly inaugurated in London by means of two invitation concerts, under the patronage of Lord Shaftesbury and other distinguished friends. The chairman at the first of these concerts, Samuel Morley, Esq., M. P., himself subscribed £100; and under the impetus thus given to the effort over $15,000 was secured that year for Livingstone Hall, while concert work yielded good returns for the general uses of the University.
Would concerts on the Continent pay? Would the slave songs keep their power where the words lost their meaning? These were questions that had been asked often during the work in England. While the Singers were taking a brief summer rest in Geneva, Switzerland, an experiment had been tried which, if one swallow only made a summer, might have seemed conclusive as an answer to these questions. Just before their departure they gave a concert in the Salle de la Reformation at which Père Hyacinthe presided. The distinguished chairman and, with few exceptions, the audience did not understand English much less the vernacular of the slave songs. But the hall was crowded and the enthusiasm rose to white heat. When asked how they could enjoy the songs when they could not understand the words, the answer was, "We cannot understand them, but we can feel them." With all the encouragement which this concert gave, the certainty
of heavy loss if a tour on the Continent proved a failure, made the venture still seem a hazardous and doubtful one.
One of the London concerts was the means of turning the scale in which this question lay balancing. Mr. G. P. Ittman, Jr., an eminent Christian gentleman of Rotterdam, and a leading merchant there, was in London on business when his attention was attracted one day by an advertisement in the "Times" of a Jubilee concert that evening at Surrey Chapel. He attended, and was so greatly interested that he came forward at the close of the concert and urged the Singers to visit Holland, offering to do all in his power to make their trip a success. When the time came, some months afterward, to go, Mr. Ittman was found to be as good as his word. He not only gave his own time and influence lavishly in preparing the way for the Singers, but he enlisted the active cooperation of influential and generous friends all through the kingdom. The "Story" found an admirable translation at the hands of Rev. Adama van Scheltema, who rendered the songs, even, into Dutch with remarkable success. The publisher, Mr. A. van Oosterzee of Amsterdam, was one of the most serviceable helpers whom the mission of the Singers ever enlisted.
Local committees of leading citizens were formed in almost every place the Singers planned to visit, who assumed the burden of preparing for the concerts, and whose patronage was itself a guaranty of success. Where there were no halls of suitable dimensions the churches were tendered to the Singers, and even the great cathedrals, as at Utrecht, Leenwarden,
Harlegen, Zwolle, Dordrecht, Delft, Alkmaar, and Schiedam were opened for their concerts. Nowhere have the Singers found a heartier welcome or left dearer friends than in the Netherlands.
The most distinguished attentions which they had hitherto received from the great and the learned were quite eclipsed in the splendor of the reception given them in the palatial mansion of the Baron and Baroness van Wassenaer de Catwijck at The Hague, where they met the Queen of the Netherlands famous as well for her own accomplishments as the patronage she has given art and literature and other members of the royal family, and a hundred or more of the nobility and diplomatic corps of the Dutch capital. All but the Singers were in court dress, and the files of soldiery that lined the path to the door, the liveried servants that ushered the guests to cloak-room and salon, the brilliant costumes of the ladies, and the no less brilliant uniforms and decorations of soldiers and diplomats, the coronet of the queen flashing with diamonds, and the rich furnishings of the elegant apartments made a scene of dazzling splendor which was only heightened by the attentions shown to their dusky guests. The Queen gave the Singers a pleasant greeting individually, and testified to the sincerity of her expressions of pleasure in listening to their songs by honoring their public concert, a few evenings later, with her presence. The King also received them, not long after, at his royal residence, the Loo, and added a generous subscription to the fund for Livingstone Hall.
After two months spent thus with their Dutch friends, the Singers returned to their work in England, their treasury the fuller by $10,000 for this excursion to the Netherlands, and their plans now taking shape for a visit to Germany.
Marsh, J. B. T. The Story of the Jubilee Singers; With Their Songs . Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co, 1880. [format: book], [genre: history; travelogue]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=Jubilee.html