Religious Folk-Songs of the Southern Negroesby Howard W. Odum
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To know the soul of a people and to find the source from which flows the expression of folk-thought is to comprehend in a large measure the capabilities of that people. To obtain the truest expression of the folk-mind and feeling is to reveal much of the inner-consciousness of a race. And the knowledge of those evidences which are most representative of race life constitutes the groundwork of a knowledge of social and moral tendencies, hence of social and moral needs. The student of race traits and tendencies must accept testimony from within the race, and in the study of race character the value of true expressions of the feelings and mental imagery cannot be overestimated. Thus it is possible to approximate knowledge of a race. To bring a people face to face with themselves and to place them fairly before the world is the first service that can be rendered in the solution of race problems.
To preserve and interpret the contributions of a people to civilization is to add to the science of folk-history. Posterity has often judged peoples without having so much as a passing knowledge of their inner life, while treasures of folk-lore and song, the psychic, religious, and social expression of the race, have been permitted to remain in complete obscurity. Likewise peoples have lived contemporaneously side by side, but ignorant of the treasures of folk-gems that lay hidden and wasting all about them. The heart and soul of the real people are unknown, science is deprived of a needed contribution, and the world is hindered in its effort to discover the full significance of the psychological, religious, social and political history of mankind. That which is distinctly the product of racial life and development deserves a better fate than to be blown away with changing environment, and not even remain to enrich the soil from which it sprang. Justice to the race and the scientific spirit demand the preservation of all interesting and valuable additions to the knowledge of folk-life. The successful study of the common development of the human intellect in primitive thought is thus advanced. The exact form of expression itself constitutes a contribution to knowledge and literature.
The value and importance of folk-lore are gladly recognized. Its successful study and a more comprehensive recognition of its worth have revealed new problems and new phases of thought. Not only its relation to civilization as an historical science and as it bears definitely upon peoples of modern cultural areas is recognized, but its essential value in the study of psychological, anthropological, and sociological conditions has called forth the most careful study that has been possible to give it. On the scientist's part, knowledge has been increased, while on the other hand, the peoples of the world have become more united in the appreciation of the kindred development of human thought. The vast contributions to folk-science and their relation to scientific interest, bear testimony to this truth. And perhaps even more with folk-song, a greater work is to be done. As a part of folk-lore it represents less of the traditional and more of the spontaneous. Its collection and study is now being pursued with more zeal and with marked success. And the hope may well be expressed that with the growing interest in folk-song may come an increased knowledge of all that is nearest and truest to the phyletic as well as the genetic concept of a people, and that with this knowledge may come effective efforts toward race adjustment and new aids in the solution of race problems.
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