Swing Low Sweet Charity

>Chewing over the phrase “charity begins at home” (it always sticks in my throat!) my mind went to “Swing low sweet charity” (must have been watching too much rugby over the weekend!) Since 1988 Swing Low Sweet Chariot has been the anthem of the England Rugby Union supporters. The song has a long history – from being sung by Afro-Americans to being a pretty obscene drinking song (about which I know so little!)

According to my friend Wikipedia, the song was composed by a native American slave, Wallis Willis around 1862. He also wrote “Steal away to Jesus”. Unbeknown to Rugby Union fans both the songs have hidden references to the Underground Railroad by which many slaves escaped to freedom.

“Swing low” refers to the escape “conductors” going down south to get their “passengers”. “Sweet chariot” was the carriage to “carry me home” to freedom. “Looking over Jordan” refers to the rivers Ohio and Mississippi beyond which is freedom. There was no physical railroad – but the slaves used the language of the railroad as code to help slaves escape. The Underground Railroad consisted of meeting points, secret routes, transportation, safe houses, and assistance provided by abolitionist sympathizers – who were the “conductors”. The churches were involved in this underground movement through which, some estimate, up to 100,000 slaves found their escape.

How many rugby fans are freedom fighters I wonder? It might make them think again if they were to sing the song standing in the shoes and chains of slaves.

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