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[Detail] I'll sing thee songs of early days - sheet music

Slavery on the Stage: Minstrel Depictions of the End of Slavery

African-American communities emphasized their first decade of freedom with celebrations such as "Juneteenth," but traveling minstrel troupes reflected larger social and political sentiments with an emphasis on the nostalgic side of slavery. Songs such as "Slavery Days" and "Goin' from de cotton fields" feature singers longing for the days of the abolished institution. Similar songs can be found by searching on slavery, plantation, massa, Dixie, and South. Although many of these songs reflect the popular sentiments of minstrel performers and their audiences, they are never tempered by more sobering responses to the end of slavery in the Reconstruction era as evidenced by the creation of Freedmen's Bureaus and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Possible questions for students include:

  • What aspects of slavery are celebrated in these songs?
  • Who were these minstrels and who was their audience?
  • What is the appeal of these songs to both groups?
  • What was the role and value of these songs in Reconstruction era America?