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The American Experience
The Film & More
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DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Series Host: Hello and welcome to The American Experience. I'm David McCullough.

Courage is a powerful, old theme in the story of America... the courage to cross great oceans for the chance of a better life... the courage to defy tyranny... or to stand up for one's convictions...

Our film is about nine very courageous and gifted young Americans who in 1871, six years after the Civil War, set off from Nashville, Tennessee, not to cross the Rockies or sail round the Horn, but to save a failing university that meant everything to them. They were the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University heading north on a first tour. All but two were former slaves, several were still in their teens. They had no money, no reputation, no experience performing on the road, and the ridicule and menace they faced, because of their color, were all too real in a land where, by then, everybody supposedly had equal rights.

Their strength was in their faith -- faith in God, faith in education, and in the transcendent spirit in the old songs they sang, "cabin songs," from slave times.

"Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Steal Away," "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord." The Jubilee Singers were the first to perform these songs before white audiences. It was music to touch the hearts and souls of all men and women everywhere. And there would come the moment at historic Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, when suddenly the power of their message became evident as never before.

Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory by producer Llewellyn Smith and co-written by Andrew Ward.
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