Updated: Dec 18, 2022
This past week I came across an old Negro spiritual titled “Follow The Drinking Gourd.”
The Drinking Gourd was another name for “The Big Dipper.” Legend has it that if you wanted to be free, you needed to follow the Drinking Gourd, or the cluster of stars known as “The Big Dipper.” Slaves seeking freedom would memorize the musical map to get to Peg Leg Joe, who was known as a legendary sailor and Underground Railroad Conductor, whose mission was to guide slaves to freedom.
The musical map went something like this….
When the sun comes back, and the first quail calls Follow the drinkin’ gourd For the old man is waiting just to carry you to freedom Follow the drinkin’ gourd
Well the river bank makes a mighty good road Dead trees will show you the way Left foot, peg foot, travelin’ on Follow the drinkin’ gourd
Well the river ends, between two hills Follow the drinkin’ gourd There’s another river on the other side Follow the drinkin’ gourd
Well, where the great big river meets the little river Follow the drinkin’ gourd The old man is waiting to carry you to freedom Follow the drinkin’ gourd
The Drinking Gourd, then, was the slaves’ way to the “North.”
To follow the Drinking Gourd was to find a way in the darkness to a Promised Land where humanity was valued, where possibilities were endless, and where a closed door would begin to crack open in the earth to embrace the handiwork of God through the diversity of a nation.
We look different. We speak different languages. We hold different ideals and values. My hair is coarse. Yours might be straight. My skin is black. Yours might be ivory or brown. I am gifted in areas and weak where you might be strong. Our diversity is the very essence of God. It is our strength and possibly our power. One can put a million to flight, but two can put ten million running. We are all made in His image, reflecting parts of Him. If our common enemy was, or is looking for victory, dividing, devaluing, destroying our appreciation of one another would be the tactic to exact.
We are made in His image. All of us. The musical map, “Follow the Drinking Gourd” was a gateway amongst many gateways to not just a slaves’ way to the “North” but a country’s way to the “North.” We hold His power.
The socioeconomic state of our communities is in our hands. The King has entrusted the earth to us. He has given us the tools to end crisis, to meet challenges, to conquer and defeat enemies.
I wait for the moment that it is no longer man against woman, skin color against skin color, rich against poor, or child against parent.
The slave, back then, had a musical map to a place of freedom and a land flowing with opportunity.
Fast forward to now, I hope you find that place for you and your family. It may look different from what slaves in 1928 were hoping for when this song was sung. It was, indeed, their way to the “North.”
I don’t know your way to the “North,” or have a musical map to sing to you, but I do hope that the dreams in you do not lie dormant. The world needs to know you and experience your gift.
I hope that where you have been stuck, you will work to become unstuck.
I hope that the businesses that are in you to start will be introduced to the world.
I hope the community you live will be graced with your prayers, with your service, and with your love.
I hope that you meet every morning on a foundation of faith to keep moving, keep going, keep trusting, and keep working to down every enemy, to scale every fence that seeks to keep you out, destroy every ceiling, and kick through walls that keeps you contained.
May your family be well, as together, you follow what the Drinking Gourd means for you.
Sharwin Wiltz-Boney is an entrepreneur, business consultant/coach, speaker and author who currently serves as President and CEO of a financial infrastructure management company that has operated in the Houston area for more than a decade. Utilizing the experience, she has gained through business ventures and her very own life journey, Sharwin invites you into her Musings. Have a comment? Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.