Come Along, Let's Ride This Train: Santee River Testimonies, Praises and Songs | Digital Traditions

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by Vennie Deas-Moore. A South Carolina native, Deas-Moore is a photographer and writer who specializes in the cultural history of the Lowcountry, especially the rice culture of Georgetown County.

My fieldwork has taken me home to the Santee Delta. This area has been the home of my family for generations. It has had a long history of rice cultivation. Along the massive back creek salt marshes, my mother recalls working in the spongy gray bogs, walking carefully not to sink to her waist. The tall cane-like marsh grass would continuously beat the body, almost to the ground. Traveling to a slightly higher ridge, one encounters clinging briar patches. During the summer months of planting the sandflies, deerflies, and mosquitoes, distract from the watching alligators and wild hogs. The swampy rice fields are now silent. No longer is rice grown. Yet left are the descendants of these great rice growers. These descendants live throughout the Santee Delta. Their families continue the traditions and folkways of their West African Roots.

During the 1700s the American colonists in South Carolina and Georgia discovered a very profitable economic plantation system, "rice planting." French Huguenots settled along the North and South Santee Rivers. Although these colonists had no experience or skill in rice cultivation, they learned that Africans from the "Rice Coast" or "Windward Coast" were traditional rice-growers. This region stretched from Senegal down to Sierre Leone and Liberia. These colonist also discovered that the moist semi-tropical marsh, like Santee Delta were comparable to the West African coast. With West African Slaves' labor, the Huguenots owned some of the wealthiest plantations in America. The delta is some forty miles north of Charleston, South Carolina. The Santee Delta quietly forks off of the Old Coastal Highway. The narrow roads bend along the Santee River. The Santee is a river of vast volume, bearing down silt in a manner that makes it resemble the Nile. Like the Nile's periodic floods, the Santee fed those massive rice fields. Sixteen miles from its mouth, the Santee divides; and these two streams flow independently into the ocean. Between them is the lonely delta of the Santee, formerly one of the greatest rice-growing areas of North America, but now returned to a green wilderness as pristine as it must have been in the days of the Indians.

Crested in the delta are the people and their beautiful music. The Senior Citizens of the Santee Delta are meeting at Zion AME Church in South Santee, South Carolina. Without musical instruments their voices, clapping of their hands, and patting of their feet carries the rhythm. It is a spontaneous blending of Call and Response. " The real Negro singer cares nothing about pitch. The first notes' just burst out and the rest of the church join in----fired by the same inner urge. Every man trying to express himself through song. Every man for himself. Hence the harmony and disharmony, the shifting keys and broken time that make up the spiritual," states Zora Neale Hurston in The Sanctified Church. Ethnomusicologists trace such style of singing, chants, and shouting to West African Roots. Regular church attendance was the norm for my community. At a young age, I can remember spending long hours in church on Sunday, only to return for evening services…experiencing singing, preaching, and "rejoicing in the name of the Lord." The highly spiriting and shouting usually swept across the congregation like "wild fire."

Week night prayer meetings were common in the rural churches. Again, one would experience increasingly vigorous shouting and feeling the "Holy Ghost" until far in the night. There would be testifying and unloading of one's burdens.

I find it difficult to isolate this music into bars and notes. As a child, I was not taught formally the singing of the gospel. But I learned to participate with the adults around me. The music elicits foot tapping, hand clapping and shouting. The singing is often interspersed with spoken testimonies, and the lead singer usually sings in a call-and-response pattern. The singing becomes spontaneous and one feels and displays his emotions.

The songs are not only relaying to the other members of the church, but the singer is also experiencing and communicating with the "Holy Spirit." One may become "happy or go into a trance or lose consciousness. The music heals the soul; it releases inner tribulations and simultaneously gives joy, hope and salvation.

Ella Peoples: “It comes from an understanding that life is intended for something and that something is good. It is to be used and when we stop using it, we begin to fall apart. Haven't passed four score years I find that the vision is what gives us old age it's spendors it can turn wrinkle unto beautiful smiles. Senility unto seniority, and slowness of speech unto wisdom, it can change complaining spirit unto prayer warriors, it can suffer the gradual process of aging with dignity, and so attach the admiration and of affection of younger people. Can you imagine what a strill it is when someone says to you, " When I get old, I want to be just like you." As the vision take hold of you and give you your direction, God will write a new chapter in your biography. A chapter you never dream is possible. You will find the God is a master host. I love the Lord. I love to be here this morning I enjoy being in the service of the Lord. It is so beautiful to see older generations gather together this time to say something good for the Lord and sing songs of praises. So lets be joyful. Devotional services before Sunday morning service. A leader walks to the front of the church standing beside the offering table. He leads the church members in prays, songs, and testimonies.”

Margaret German: “I am greatful to be here in your number and I am happy to be here. Because I love singing and shouting and praying. I just love to serve the Lord.”

Sadie Smith: “I love to sing, I love to praise the Lord, because if we never needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now. I am going to sing this song, short song, not very long. But it starts like this. The person who testifies expects to raises a hymn.”

Annabelle Porcher: “I am the site manager of the Awendaw Senior Center. I am a member of Mt. Nebo AME Church; Rev. Holmes is my pastor. And I just love to praise the Lord.”

Rebecca Chapman: “I belong to St. James AME, my pastor… my pastor Rev. Gaillard. I was the Sunday school superintendent for thirty years, and I am still doing my job…And thanking God for each of you here this morning. May God bless you and may God keep us.”

Emmalina Thompson: “I am from Awendaw, my pastor, Rev Butler, and I am in Union AME Church. And praise the Lord. I love to sing, I love singing, and I love shouting too…Thank God I'm still here.

Carrie Jackson: “From Mt. Nebo Church. I thank the Lord, he wake me up this morning in my right mind. I love to go to church and love to do the best I can between each other… And I ask the Lord to carry me through this day. And I ask this pray in Jesus Name.” The music is not rehearsed; it is spontaneous. Group singing bent on expression of feelings. These senior citizens come from different churches. There are no conductors. They beautifully blend their songs and testimonies…All so naturally.

Louise Sutton: “I don't want Jesus to past me by, because I love the Lord and all his goodness, and if you do thy will of the Lord, I am sure he would not pass you by.”

Leonford Patterson: “I love to sing, I love to praise the Lord, I love to praise the worship songs, because it blesses my soul and it tells a story. I think, it blesses everyone who listens. I am just grateful to be here this morning…Last night, we had pray service at Zion and the spirit was in the house. And when the spirit is in the house there is joy, there's joy.

There abound of joy in the presence of the Lord. And I just thank God for last night service. One sister sing a song that really tough my heart. But, the spirit works in different ways.   Sometimes a spirit will touch you thought a song.  Sometimes will touch you through a word.  So, it will touch you something somebody said.  It'll touch from someone that just pats you on your back. When you feel like giving up, then someone would come along and just give you a word of encouragement or touch of encouragement. And it takes all of that to make it home.  While we traveling this pilgrim journey. Something the sister sing last night was, " So glad I'm here" I don't know maybe the spirit and my spirit we coincide last night. And when the spirit of the Lord and your spirit agree, something got to happen.  So this sister this sing "So glad I'm here". And I'm going to sing it right now, because that's the way I feel.  I might not can sing it as good as she can, but that doesn't matter. As long as I sing it from my heart. It doesn't matter, because everyone does not have the same talent. But God can use us all. Whether we got big talent, little talent, or in between talent, because God can use it all for his glory… For his glory, not for our glory.” 

Prayer meetings are held during midweek, a church leader is in charge of prayers, songs, and testimonies.  The highly spirited singing and shouting usually swept across the congregation like “wildfire”.

“So Glad I'm Here In Jesus Name”

So glad I'm here,

So glad I'm here,

So glad I'm here,

In Jesus Name,

 

So glad I'm here.

So glad I'm here.

So glad I'm here.

In Jesus Name.

 

I'm going to pray while I'm here,

Pray while I'm here.

Pray while I'm here.

In Jesus Name.

 

I'm going to pray while I'm here,

Pray while I'm here.

Pray while I'm here.

In Jesus Name.

 

I'm going to sing while I'm here.

Sing while I'm here.

Sing while I'm here.

In Jesus Name.

 

I'm going to sing while I'm here.

Sing while I'm here.

Sing while I'm here.

In Jesus Name.

 

I'm going to love while I'm here.

Love while I'm here.

Love while I'm here.

In Jesus Name.

 

I'm going to love while I'm here.

Love while I'm here.

Love while I'm here.

In Jesus Name.

 

Rev. Henry Smith Jr:  “I love to serve the Lord.  I like to be in the church service. I like to be in bible study. I like to be in Sunday School. And it is good to be in the house of the Lord at all times. That is what I love.  And I’m glad to be with all of you this morning, and may the Lord ever keep and bless you. Amen…Amen…”  

After a verse or two, he or she speaks, expressing love for everyone, joy for being present.

 

“Oh the Blood Done Sign My Name”

Oh the Blood, Oh the Blood,

Oh the Blood, done sign my name.

 

Oh the Blood, Oh the Blood,

Ohthe Blood, done sign my name. 

Oh the Blood, Oh the Blood,

Oh the Blood, done sign my name.

Jesus Blood, done sign my name.

(Members)

Oh…

Do you know him? Do you know him?

Oh the blood, done sign my name.

(Members)

Do you know him? Do you know him?

Oh the blood, done sign my name.

(Members)

Do you know him? Do you know him?

Oh the blood, done sign my name.

Jesus Blood, done sign, my name.

Oh…

I’m a witness, I’m a witness.

Oh…Well, the blood done sign my name.

Oh…

I’m a witness, I’m a witness.

Oh…the blood done sign my name.

Oh…

I’m a witness, I’m a witness.

Oh…the blood done sign my name.

Jesus, blood…

Done sign….my name.

The blood none sign my name.  Thank you Lord.  Thank you Jesus.  Thank you Lord Thanks.  Thank you father. Thank you Lord.”  

(Group speaking in chant. They express determination to hold out to the end)

Leonford Patterson:  “Thank you for this opportunity to be here again, in the land of the living, Lord.  To see another new day, in Jesus name. Lord you woke us up this morning, and your glory was all around us. And Lord you allow us just to see your glory.  To that we say thank you Lord.  Thou we enter your gate this morning with thanksgiving.  Enter you court with praises.  Come before your presence with singing.  Serving you with gladness in our heart. Know that it is you that made us and not we ourselves.  We are your people and the sheep of your pasture.  For Lord, we want to bless your name this morning.  Because your mercy is forever lasting to everlasting.  And your truth endures to all generations.  We say hallelujah to you this morning. Glory to God in the highest. God we thank you Lord, for what you done for us.   For where you brought us from, Lord.  Lord you are Jehovah, John, our provider and we just glad you allow us be your servants … Lord you made such a beautiful world Lord, but yet you favor us Lord.  Lord we turn our backs on you many times, Lord, but father you forgive, Lord.  So Lord give us a forgiving heart.  He says to forgive, as we forgive others… Lord we want to be just like you. We want to walk in your footsteps, Lord. We want to talk like you, Lord. We want to think like you.   We feel for you, Lord.  We want to live for you. We want to love like you. Lord we want to be holy like you. For Lord, we need your Holy Spirit.  To walk with us, Lord.  Because Lord, we can not do it by ourselves.  Lord we thank you for this opportunity to assemble ourselves together, in sweet communion, Lord. And Lord we do not bless you and bless each other, Lord.  Because we need each other. Lord, we need to encourage one another.  We need to love one another, Lord.  We need to carry out your will.  We need to be a witness, Lord.  We need to live so the world could look at us and say, “See Jesus in us.”  And Lord I thank you this morning; I thank you.  I’m like David this morning, I was glad when they say unto to me let’s us go into the house of the Lord…Hallauh… I thank you Lord for your peace and your joy; you gave us this morning. And we shall continue to give you the glory as long as breath shall last, Lord. We shall praise your name. In Jesus name Amen …Amen… and Amen.”

Black religious speakers at his own will, he embellish.  His religious service is for the greater part excellent prose poetry.  Both prayers and sermons are spoken are true works of art.  The beauty of the Old Testament is blended with his prayer.

“What a Mighty God We Serve”

What a mighty God we serve,

What a mighty God we serve,

He woke us up this morning,

Start me on my way,

What a mighty God we serve.

 

What a mighty God we serve,

What a mighty God we serve,

He woke us up this morning,

Start me on my way,

What a mighty God we serve.

 

You didn’t have to do it but he did.

You didn’t have to do it but he did.

He woke me up this morning,

Start me on my way,

What a mighty God we serve.

 

What a mighty God we serve,

What a mighty God we serve,

He woke me up this morning,

Start me on my way,

What a mighty God we serve.

 

Spirituals are not solo or quartette material.  The jagged harmony is what makes it.  The lead singer cares nothing about pitch. The first notes just burst out and the church joins in – fired by the same inner urge.  Every man trying to express himself through song – every man for himself.  Hence the harmony and disharmony, the shifting keys and broken time that makes this unique singing style.

“I Have Jesus”

I have Jesus,

And you can’t take it away from me.

I have Jesus,

And you can’t take it away from me.

Oh, you can have this old body,

Just bury me in the cold clay.

I have Jesus,

And you can’t take it away.

I have Jesus,

And you can’t take it away from me.

I have Jesus,

And you can’t take it away from me.

You can have this old body,

Bury it in the cold clay,

I have Jesus,

And you can’t take it away.

Margaret German:  “I thank the Lord, for this chance, for this opportunity. Because this didn’t promise to us. But he said, by and by grace and my mercy, I'll take you through. And that’s what I’m pending on, I'm pending on.  If you do the will of the Lord, then He will look on he will do wonders for you. And pour you showers and showers of blessing.  You may not be able to receive.  So I thank God, I thank the good Lord. I thank Him, for my health, my strength. Thank him, yes.  I want to say today, I am a noisy Christian in my church, I do not sit quite.   Because I got Jesus. I was baptized in Jordan River.  Jesus takes me there in Jerusalem and brings me back over.  Spend fourteen days over there in Jordan.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you…Very noisy, very noisy.  Because I got Jesus…You can have this old body, but bury me in cold…cold clay…”

She recites incident of conversion, telling in details the visions seen and voices heard.  The vision is a very definite part of the religious experience.  In the conversion the vision is sought.  The individual goes forth into waste places and by fasting and praying induces the vision.

“Come Along, Let's Ride This Train”

Come along my friends come along,

Get aboard,

Let's ride this train.

Nothing on this train to lose,

Everything to gain.

Why don't You.

Come along my friends come along,

Get aboard,

Let's ride this train.

Nothing on this train to lose,

Everything to gain.

Why don't You.

Come along I pray come along,

Get aboard; Let ride this train,

Nothing on this train to lose,

Everything to gain.

Life experiences through the songs and testimonies.   How God brought them through.  The one taking up the hymn is witnessing to the congregation. Pleading for responses…firing up the church.  Solemn hums fill the air. The low hums get louder and faster, until the whole church starts to feel the Holy Spirit.  The spontaneous rhythm is maintained by the leader. He directs the singing, rather that the music leading the voices.  Chanting, body expressions, and shouting.  Stories are told giving everyday experiences, thorough the Almighty God.

Thanks to the Village Museum of McClellanville, S.C., South Carolina Arts Commission, Santee Senior Citizen Center,  Zion AME Church, and the generous contributions of the Senior Citizens of the Santee Delta,