The African-American Vernacular Tradition


During the times of slavery, the Africans taken to America developed their own culture that enabled them to express their views. Their cultural heritage includes music and folktales that highlight the Africans’ way of life (Ervin 12). African-Americans still use such music as blues, gospel, and jazz and tell folktales to underline their origins. This paper will analyze the examples of native traditions employed by Africans to express themselves and their cultural peculiarities. The features of the vernacular tradition of the Africans to air out their views will also be discussed.

Analysis of Music

Gospel Songs

The Southern African Americans composed gospel songs, including “Go down Moses” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” It was an expression of the people’s optimism that their Lord would free them from oppression the same way He freed Daniel from the jaws of the lions (West and Glaude Jr. 37). Every time the Africans felt that their misfortunes were not coming to an end, they would console themselves by singing these songs. They would get encouraged that God would help them. The tunes were sung in their places of worship to honor the Lord.

Secular Songs

The Africans used secular songs like “We Raise the Wheat” and “Me and My Captain.” These songs unified the African population (Bolden 63). They also tried to criticize the immoral activities that the people endured and challenged the whites to stop mistreating them. Apart from that, these songs were also used for dancing and entertainment.


To narrate their stories, Africans used such ballads as “The Signifying Monkey,” “Sinking the Titanic,” and “Shine and the Titanic.” The songs were slow and moved many people by their tale of how the Africans were frustrated by the mistreatment they received from the colonizers. The people also used the songs to signify that one day they would attain their freedom and defeat the oppressors. Singing such songs inspired them to work together to rebel. Though they were considered inferior, they believed that they could bring down the oppressors the same way the Titanic was sunk by a tip of an iceberg.

Work Songs

As the natives worked on cotton plantations, they sang such songs as “Pick a Bale of Cotton” to keep their enthusiasm. The main aim of the songs was to avoid boredom and encourage teamwork. Although they did not enjoy the slavery work, singing made the job easier, and they could continue with their duty. Music served as a form of entertainment to them.


This genre was used to tell woeful or melancholy stories. African-Americans composed tunes like “Good Morning, Blues” to explain their misery. Blues songs were also used to express their wish for liberation. This music prompted African-Americans to fight for their rights to gain their freedom (Bolden 45).

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Analysis of Folktales

Apart from music, African-Americans told fictional and partly fictional stories, such as All God’s Chillen Had Wings, to the younger generations. It was done to give hope to the children that one day, they would overcome all the challenges and get independence. It instilled hopeful thoughts into the youth and motivated them to struggle for their freedom.


The Africans were denied the right to education when they were taken to America. However, it did not hinder them from connecting with each other, as they managed to develop their culture. They utilized a vernacular language to convey their history through folktales. They also invented and popularized various musical genres to voice their views and state that all the ill-treatment would come to an end, thus promoting their love for freedom.


Works Cited

Bolden, Tony. Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture. University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Ervin, Hazel Arnett. The Handbook of African American Literature. University Press of Florida, 2004.

West, Cornel, and Eddie S. Glaude Jr. African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.