December 4, 2012
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound . . .”. The author of those familiar words was John Newton born in London in 1725. After serving on a ship involved in the slave trade he eventually became the captain of his own ship also involved in the slave trade. During a violent storm at sea (May 10, 748) he came to experience what he later called his “great deliverance”. God was addressing him, he later obsereved, through that storm and it was then that grace began to work on him. Later he became a minister and wrote the words to the verse “Amazing Grace” probably between 1760 and 1770. The origin of the melody is not known but it is speculated (Bill Moyers special on “Amazing Grace) it began as a tune of a song the slaves sang. What is also interesting is Newton’s influence on William Wilberforce, the leader of the movement to abolish slavery in the British Empire. The hymn “Amazing Grace” has always had a large place in the African-American community. For myself the hymn has always spoken importantly as underscoring not only the importance of spiritual freedom but also freedom from physical bondage.
Marian Anderson, the great African American contralto, singing “Amazing Grace” has symbolized for me a keynote in American history. She sang, in my view, not only for spiritual freedom but also for remembering the struggle for freedom from the bondage of slavery. She evoked for me the ongoing quest for justice in American society. Born in 1897 she rose to fame as a globally recognized soloist, especially in Europe. Returning to America she was turned down by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when she sought to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Eleanor Roosevely resigned in protest from the DAR and took a strong stand for civil rights. Through her influence with the Secretary of the Interior the steps of the Lincoln Memorial were made available. Marian Anderson sang there on Easter Sunday in 1939 to an audience of 75, 000 people. “Amazing Grace” was one of her signature songs. This is the same location where 2000, 000 people gathered on August 28, 1963 to hear Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. “Amazing Grace”, the Lincoln Memorial, Marian anderson, and Martin Luther King – symbols for the struggle for freedom and justice in American history and life in the present..