By CLARENCE GLOVER Jr.
Sankofa Education Services
Out of the deepest pains of suffering come the loudest cries for life.
John Newton was an Englishman who bought and sold African people. On a night his ship encountered a fierce storm, he heard the sound of Africans moaning a deep and melodious sound in the hull of the ship.
While their bodies were shackled together in chains, the souls of Black West Africans were free to lift their voices to an unseen God who they petitioned to free them from the horrors of slavery.
I was told many years ago by an elder African American man, who’s name I’ve since forgotten, that the shackled Africans were moaning, “a tune to the moon.” It was a deep moaning chant that would cause the moon to reverse the flow of the wave and draw the ship back to their African homeland.
As the enslaved Africans moaned and the storm began to subside, it is said Newton took pen to paper and began to write the melodious words, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” Unable to dismiss the sounds from his mind, Newton experienced conversion in his soul.
Centuries later, a book entitled, Servant of Slaves; A Biographical Novel of John Newton by Grace Irwin 1961, would tell of Newton’s conversion and commitment to the abolishment of slavery.
As he returned to England, Newton struggled with his newfound conversion and the horrors of slavery and would soon become committed to its abolishment. Together with William Wilberforce and the song Amazing Grace, they would lead a campaign to free Englishmen and African men from the horrible institution of slavery.
Slavery was an institution that required both unjust acts in Africa, England and America to maintain the horrible Atlantic Slave Trade.
In the PBS Documentary, Amazing Grace William Wilberforce 2007, Newton and the story of the abolishment of slavery is told in moving detail.
Strangely enough, Amazing Grace would go on to become the anthem of the Christian Church in America sung by all. It’s unique presence in print would be highlighted by the fact that Newton would be cited as the author of the words, but no one was cited as the creator of the melody.
Gospel minister and singer Wintley Phipps has documented the connection between Newton and the African moaning chant on YouTube, called “Bill & Gloria Gaither – Amazing Grace ft. Wintley Phipps,” at http://youtu.be/qNuQbJst4Lk
Only now can we begin to connect the dots of Amazing Grace to the source of the melody and the writing of the words. While African Americans have moaned and sang Amazing Grace from slavery to now and European-Americans sang it as they founded a nation built on slavery, it has now taken center stage as Garth Brooks, a European-American Republican, sang it at the inauguration of President Joe Bidden and Vice President Kamala Harris, both Democrats, during a time when our nation is deeply divided over issues rooted in the history of slavery, racism and injustice.
Can Amazing Grace now become the binding tie that brings our nation together as we face the dawn of a new administration? Can we at last begin to bury the last vestiges of slavery that enslaves both the enslaver and the enslaved? Can America now embrace the open shackles at the feet of the Statue of Liberty and allow her torch of freedom to shine on all Americans?
Brooks’ moving request that we all join him in singing the last verse, which was in actuality strangely the first verse, was a unique spiritual connection that unified Americans. If not but for a moment we were “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!”
Clarence Glover, known as Professor Freedom of Sankofa Education Services, which operates with the purpose of “Taking the chains off our brains, so our minds can work.” He is a cultural diversity speaker and trainer and has been inducted into the African American Education Archives and History Program during The Bobbie L. Lang Hall of Fame. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.