Osceola Mays

Spirituals and Poems

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About

Details: Audio CD, 2003, 25 Tracks, 60mins, Produced and Recorded by Alan Govenar, also available on Cassette from 1988

The spirituals and poems of Osceola Mays are remarkable indeed. In them, the past is recounted with a reverent intensity that expresses the deeply felt emotions of three generations of black Texans. The harsh realities of segregation and discrimination are juxtaposed with the importance of family and community life in these spirituals and poems learned by Osceola Mays from her mother, Azalene Douglas, and her grandmother, Laura Walker. Through her long and active life, Osceola Mays, now seventy-eight, has remembered the poems of her rural East Texas childhood, knowing that, as her grandmother told her, they would one day bring her "good." Together her poems are a metaphor for the African-American struggle for survival and freedom. Her grandmother composed one original poem, entitled "The Civil War;" her mother, two poems, "Gilliam Storm" (which her father made into a song) and "The War is On." These poems, together with Osceola's poem, "The Black Man's Plea for Justice" (composed when she was sixteen), chronicle in verse three generations of suffering and hope. This audiocassette tape was produced by Alan Govenar and, funded by Documentary Arts, Inc.

Liner Notes

Alan Govenar recorded Osceola Mays in 1987 at his home in Dallas, Texas. These recordings were first released in 1988 with the following notes. This CD combines the original masters with additional recordings.

1988
Osceola Mays sits at the table without moving. She closes her eyes and starts to say something, but then covers her mouth with the palm of her hand as if to hold back her voice. There is a short pause and then she begins to sing. The words come forth with a steady rhythm and her body sways forward and back. The notes are long and deep, deliberately flatted, calling forth memories of the spirituals she heard as a child, "Trouble I've Seen," "Run, Sinner, Run," "Steal Away" and others that come and go as the morning becomes afternoon.

It is not "correct" singing, she says, offering me a glass of cold water from a plastic jug placed neatly on the table in front of her. The light from the window behind her casts her face in the darkness. The house feels different as the afternoon sun fills the front room, making the photographs and knickknacks around us seem more prominent. A pump organ cluttered with stacks of paper and old 45rpm records sits across from a brown and orange couch. On the walls are prints of a portrait of Jesus and a reproduction of Da Vinci's Last Supper hung near a Martin Luther King memorial plate.

The setting is simple, but the spirituals and poems of Osceola Mays are remarkable indeed. In them, the past is recounted with a reverent intensity that expresses the deeply felt emotions of three generations of black Texans. The harsh realities of segregation and discrimination are juxtaposed with the importance of family and community life in these spirituals and poems learned by Osceola Mays from her mother, Azalene Douglas, and her grandmother, Laura Walker.

Through her long and active life, Osceola Mays, now seventy-eight, has remembered the poems of her rural East Texas childhood, knowing that, as her grandmother told her, they would one day bring her "good." Her poems are an expression of the African-American struggle for survival and freedom. Her grandmother composed one original poem, entitled "The Civil War;" he mother two poems, two poems, "Gilliam Storm" (which her father made into a song) and "The War is On." These poems, together with Osceola's poem, "The Black Man's Plea for Justice" (composed when she was sixteen), chronicle in verse three generations of suffering and hope.

2003
In 1989 Osceola traveled to France as part of the "Texas in Paris" tour, organized by Documentary Arts and presented at the Maison des Cultures du Monde in Paris and at the Centro Flog in Florence, Italy. Osceola, now 92 years old, is still an active member of the Good Street Baptist Church and has moved to an apartment nearby. She is the subject of the video "Osceola: Stories, Songs and Poems," produced by Documentary Arts and the book Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), collected and edited by Alan Govenar (2001 Orbis Pictus Honor Award, National Council of Teachers of English; 2000 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award, First Prize, Nonfiction; 2000 New York Book Festival, First Place, Children’s Trade, Nonfiction).

Alan Govenar, 2003

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Track Listing and Samples

01 Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (listen to MP3 sample)
02 Oh Mary, Don't You Weep
03 Gilliam's Town
04 Down by the Riverside
05 I'm Going Down by the Big Baptizing
06 Civil War (listen to MP3 sample)
07 Do Lord Remember Me
08 I Will Trust in the Lord
09 Calvary, Lord
10 Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen (listen to MP3 sample)
11 The War is On
12 Run, Sinner, Run
13 Steal Away
14 Gilliam's Storm
15 Jesus Going to Make Up My Dyin' Bed
16 Black Man's Plea for Justice;
17 Poor Man Lazarus
18 When the Saints Go Marchin' In
19 Wade in the Water
20 All of God's Children Got Shoes
21 Lord I Want to be a Christian (listen to MP3 sample)
22 Lord Will Make a Way Some How
23 He Arose
24 I'll Fly Away
25 What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Listen to samples of this CD in high-quality, 192k, MP3 format: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Civil War, Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, and Lord I Want to be a Christian

Video

A sample clip from this short biographical film by Alan Govenar.