UUCC’s Negro Spirituals Reparations Project

UUCC’s Negro Spirituals Reparations Project

At worship on April 24, 2022, the UUCC Music Ministry introduced the Negro Spirituals Reparations Project.

Originally called “slave songs,” Negro spirituals are a genre originally composed by enslaved Africans and their descendants in the United States. Often using biblical references to hide their meanings from slavemasters and overseers, they were used to express the suffering of enslavement, to provide solidarity and emotional support to one another, and to send coded signals about escape plans.

The original creators of these songs were never compensated for their work, adding to the economic deprivation of their descendants created by systemic racism.

Some majority-White congregations have begun collecting reparations for these songs when they are performed. Reparations can begin to compensate persons who have suffered these deprivations, and to set us on a path toward right relationship. It is not charity — it is the repayment of a debt long overdue. Paying reparations for Negro spirituals can also begin to open up and normalize reparations as something appropriate in our larger American institution, as well as “building our individual muscles of reparative justice-making.”

Our plan is to simply take up a voluntary collection for reparations any time a Negro spiritual is performed in worship, and to periodically disburse the funds appropriately. (We collected reparations for the two Negro spirituals performed April 24.) We’ll have a separate collections basket for reparations on top of the hymnal bookcases at the back of Sanctuary C any time a spiritual is planned. We’ll also present information on the original meanings and significance of each song, so that the works can be experienced in their true light.

If you were unable to contribute at the Music Service, you can do so any time, online, on Realm. Make a donation to UUCC and put “Reparations” or “Reparations for Negro Spirituals” in the memo line.

As other congregations have done, UUCC will select an organization to periodically receive these reparations. Organizations will be selected whose work helps to redress transgenerational economic oppression of Black Americans, particularly Black musicians and composers. Centering our congregants of color in the selection process will be important to selecting appropriate organizations. Periodically the collected funds will be paid to the selected organization.

Additional details about the project will be communicated as they’re firmed up in the coming weeks.

— Laurie Coltri & Michael Adcock, on behalf of the UUCC Music Ministry


You can see a Reparations Royalty Pilot Program plan here.

For more information, or to volunteer to help out with the project please contact Dr. Michael Adcock, UUCC Director of Music, at michael@uucolumbia.net.


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