Swing Low Sweet Chariot, an international hymn written by a black slave

Date: 
Mon, 1840-12-21

On this date in 1840, The Registry celebrates the writing of the hymn “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”

It was penned by Wallace Willis, the Black slave of a Choctaw Indian. Known as "Uncle Wallace," he was inspired to write this well-known American hymn by his current home near Oklahoma City. Willis was also a servant at Spencer Academy, a Choctaw boarding school for boys in Choctaw County.

On the day he wrote the hymn, Willis looked out over the cotton field he was tilling and gazed upon the Red River in the distance. This reminded him of the Mississippi River and the plantation his master owned before moving to Doaksville, OK, Indian Territory. With the sun bright that hot day, Wallace expressed his longing and weariness the only way he knew how.

Willis and his wife, Minerva, often sang Willis's songs for the students, teachers, and guests of Spencer Academy. A missionary took Willis's song to the East where it was quickly picked up by university choirs. The spiritual was composed in a capella and was an early hallmark in black Oklahoma's contribution to popular music and culture.

Reference:
Story behind spiritual ‘Swing Chariot' emerges

| More