- Film: Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison by Pete and Toshi Seeger
Watch the movie and write 300 words about what you experienced related to the course material.
Also remember to cite the source (where you watch the movie and also if you are using any other article online be sure to cite those as well)
example: but don’t copy.
The 1966 documentary film, Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison, captures a snapshot of the work songs sung by black inmates. At the time of production, the work song had nearly faded away. Reasons for this include mechanization and racial integration (Folkstreams). Prisoners sang these songs in groups as they performed manual labor. The call-and-response work song has its origins in Africa. According to folklorist and producer of the film, Bruce Jackson, US southern slave plantations were “were based on West African agricultural models and … the black slaves used worksongs in the plantations exactly as they had used them before they had been taken prisoner and sold to the white men” (Folkstreams). The original purpose of the work songs was to synchronize the movements of the laborers’ bodies while making the work seem easier. This increased the efficiency of the work. The film and Jackson emphasize that the work songs, when used in prisons, had the extra purpose of preventing the prisoners asynchronous with the fast pace from being brutally killed by guards. For prisoners, working in the fields from early in the morning to into the night was difficult and exhausting labor. In the film, we see prisoners cutting trees, chopping wood, and hoeing fields. This sort of labor is now done using a mechanical machine (e.g., tractors) instead of a human with tool in-hand. As they work, a leader calls out verses and the others respond with repetition of those verses. The group then collectively sings a chorus. African American work songs often contained Biblical imagery related to their own struggle under oppression. Nonetheless, the work song is an important cultural artifact that originates from the heritage of African American culture and acknowledges the dark history of racial oppression in the US.