TEXT

We’ll Soon Be Free

African-American spirituals, such as this one, are religious folksongs. They are associated with enslavement, and are often seen as protest songs.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 5, 9 and 10.

"We'll soon be free, 
We'll soon be free, 
We'll soon be free, 
       When de Lord will call us home. 
My brudder, how long,  
My brudder, how long,  
My brudder, how long, 
       'Fore we done sufferin' here? 
It won't be long (Thrice.) 
       'Fore de Lord will call us home. 
We'll walk de miry road (Thrice.) 
       Where pleasure never dies. 
We'll walk de golden street (Thrice.) 
       Where pleasure never dies. 
My brudder, how long (Thrice.) 
       'Fore we done sufferin' here? 
We'll soon be free (Thrice.) 
       When Jesus sets me free. 
We'll fight for liberty (Thrice.) 
       When de Lord will call us home." 

Source
This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/1867jun/spirit.htm and http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/negro-spirituals/png/we_ll_soon_be_free.png.
Text Dependent Questions
Question
“We’ll walk de golden street, Where pleasure never dies.” To what is this referring?
Answer
This passage is referring to Heaven or the afterlife.
Question
What religious message does this spiritual have for enslaved people?
Answer
Though they may be enslaved in life, they will “soon be free,” meaning they will have freedom in the afterlife because of their Christian faith.
Question
In 1867, a writer for The Atlantic said several enslaved people were jailed in South Carolina for singing this spiritual during the Civil War. Why would this song coupled with the War have led to jailing enslaved people?
Answer
Answers may vary: As they were enslaved when they sang this song, even though it alludes to the afterlife, the statement “we’ll soon be free” could have been seen as a threat to white enslavers.
Question
The Atlantic writer said that a “drummer-boy” told him that, when the spiritual is sung, some think "Lord" means "Yankees." Based on this, how do you think enslaved people saw the Civil War?
Answer
Enslaved people saw the war as one for their freedom. In particular, this line equates the Union troops with the Lord. Or, the Union troops are doing the Lord’s work.
Question
How does this illustrate the ways in which enslaved people resisted their enslavement?
Answer
Answers may vary: By speaking of their freedom in their spiritual lives, it indicates their resistance to being enslaved. Many lines could be interpreted as speaking to their current circumstances and willingness to fight for their freedom (e.g., “We’ll fight for liberty”). By emphasizing their freedom in the afterlife, enslaved people are also expressing their humanity. As Christianity was the dominant religion in the South, by stating “Jesus sets me free,” enslaved people are declaring their common salvation.