Black History: Special Delivery!!
The religious gatherings of enslaved Africans involved both formal worship organized and overseen by slave masters, as well as secret, clandestine meetings held under the cover of darkness. Those enslaved risked being beaten or even killed if caught attending these secret worship assemblies.
Great care was taken to avoid detection. Meetings were held in secluded places (woods, ravines, areas with lots of brush to provide cover). These places were known as ‘hush harbors’. Some meetings would consist of the enslaved gathering behind quilts, or other rags which were dampened to help muffle voices. The rags and quilts where hung up to resemble an enclosure, a tabernacle of sorts. In other settings, those enslaved would form a circle on their knees. The preacher would sit in on their knees in the middle of the circle as well, bending over to talk into a bowl or tub of water to help muffle sound. “Steal Away To Jesus” was one of the “code” songs that the enslaved might use to notify each other of the secret worship meetings. This “invisible institution” served not only as a time of worship but also as a time when the enslaved would dream and sometimes make plans to secure their freedom.