U.S. Slave Song Project: BCHS Choir Performs Historical Spirituals

 

Jim Thomas, U.S. Slave Song Project

Hear history come to life through music on Wednesday, March 15, at 7 p.m. at Boone County Public Library’s Main Library, 1786 Burlington Pike in Burlington, when the Boone County High School Choir performs historical African American spirituals.

The first African slaves brought to the New World carried a tradition of song with them.  This practice continued and developed new purpose and meaning as the hard lives of the enslaved people went forward.  For generations, singing was a way to cope, to inspire, to keep rhythm during long days of hard labor and to communicate with one another. These songs became a unique form of American folk music.

Slave songs or “negro spirituals” are both celebratory and solemn, and were passed down through many generations of enslaved people. The songs often carried hidden meanings and code within the lyrics. In some cases, Biblical references were used as devices to pass along plans for slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad.

Jim Thomas, U.S. Slave Song Project

This month, you will have the opportunity to hear these songs and learn the history behind their creation.  Jim Thomas, the founder and driving force behind the U.S. Slave Song Project, Inc., is coming to Northern Kentucky for a special collaboration.  He brings with him a wealth of experience as the founding director of the American Red Cross Chorus, and has conducted military and civilian choral groups around the world.

Mr. Thomas, who calls both Virginia and Martha’s Vineyard home, is traveling here as a guest instructor of the Boone County High School Choir, who will give a public performance of these spirituals.  Hear history come to life through music on Wednesday, March 15, at 7 p.m. at the Main Library in Burlington.

–Written by Hillary Delaney

Hillary Delaney is a Local History Associate at Boone County Public Library. She is a Boone County native, but has also lived in Richmond, VA, where she attended Virginia Commonweath University to study journalism. Hillary moved back to her hometown of Florence in 2007, with her husband and two children. Her lifelong love of all things historic brought her to her current position at BCPL.

February 19 Marks 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

Seventy-five years ago, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans on the West Coast of the U.S. all shared a concern about possible further Japanese attacks there.  The military command began to take measures to secure strategic military facilities, harbors and bases as civilians continued to live their daily lives with perhaps a sharpened sense of potential peril.  After all, they were in closest geographical proximity to the Japanese enemy.

Among these West Coast residents were several hundred thousand residents of Japanese descent.  Some were fishermen, others farmers and still others owners of a variety of businesses up and down the coast.  For them, life in the winter of 1942 continued as for other Americans:  busy but with a wary ear to news of possible Japanese military activity.

For some Japanese Americans, war news came from a different direction.  One young boy, now in his eighties, recalls that one day, with no warning, armed FBI agents showed up at his home to take his father away without any explanation. They did not tell the family where or why they were taking him.  He was the family’s bread-winner.  This happened to numerous other families whose fathers were deemed to be “potential threats” because they served as leaders in their communities.

San Francisco, California. Japanese family heads and persons living alone, form a line outside Civil Control Station located in the Japanese American Citizens League Auditorium at 2031 Bush Street, to appear for “processing” in response to Civilian Exclusion Order Number 20.boy, now in his eighties, recalls that one day, with no warning, armed FBI agents showed up at his home to take his father away without any explanation.  They did not tell the family where or why they were taking him.  He was the family’s bread-winner.  This happened to numerous other families whose fathers were deemed to be “potential threats” because they served as leaders in their communities.

In late February and onward through the spring, Japanese American families received notices and saw posters announcing that they would be sent away from the coast to undesignated “secure areas.”  Later they received specific times by which they had to be ready to leave their homes taking only what they could carry.  Each family was given tags with their family Identification number to attach to their persons and their bags. Imagine how hard it would be to store or get rid of your possessions, your house, your business in just a few weeks’ time.  And how to decide what to take when you don’t know where you are going or for how long.

During the spring of 1942, under the authorization of Executive Order 9066, signed by

Los Angeles, California. Mr. and Mrs. K. Tseri have closed their drugstore in preparation for the forthcoming evacuation from their “Little Tokyo” in Los Angeles.

President Franklin Roosevelt, and the War Relocation Authority, more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent, some 80,000 of whom were natural born US citizens, were herded first into relocation centers, such as the stables at Santa Anita Racetrack, and then on to one of the ten incarceration centers mostly located in the most desolate parts of the western United States.   This happened without any due process of or evidence of disloyalty to the U.S.  In the camps they were expected to put their lives together under armed military supervision for they knew not how long.   Conditions in the camps were generally harsh.  When the prisoners arrived, the camps were not yet completed and they had to help finish building the tar paper barracks where they were to live.  There was little privacy: walls were thin and the communal bathroom buildings had no stall partitions.  Meals, which by overwhelming opinion were awful (think spam and cold potatoes), were served in mess halls.  The authorities had not thought what to do with them except to imprison them in camps.  They had to create their own schools for the children and create their own activities such as gardening, baseball teams and making art from scraps and found objects.

After the war, investigations by government committees found that no Japanese Americans had offered aid to the enemy or committed any crimes.  Many of those of military age joined the armed forces fighting in Europe in the 442nd, one of the most decorated units in the Army.  Others were instrumental in the Military Intelligence Service serving as battlefield interpreters and translators.

Gordon Yoshikawa

Learn more about this part of U.S. history at the Library. Mark your calendars now for Wednesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Main Library in Burlington when Gordon Yoshikawa talks about his experience living in a Japanese internment camp as a young child.   

There is a large body of literature, non-fiction and fiction, that recounts the experiences of Japanese Americans during the time of their incarceration by the U.S. Government. Below are some of these books that can be checked out at Boone County Public Library.

Children and Teen Books:

 Adult Books:

Written by Betsy Sato

Betsy Sato is retired from teaching Japanese and Chinese history and being an administrator at what is now UC International at the University of Cincinnati. Currently  she serves as Governor of the Midwest District of the Japanese American Citizens League. She lives in Union and practices tai chi.