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"Oh, Freedom" is a post-Civil War African-American freedom song. It is often associated with the Civil Rights Movement, with Odetta, who recorded it as part of the "Spiritual Trilogy", on her Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues album,[1] and with Joan Baez, who performed the song at the 1963 March on Washington.[2] Baez has since performed the song live numerous times, both during her concerts and at other events. The song was first recorded in 1931 by the E. R. Nance Family as "Sweet Freedom". Writer and radio producer Richard Durham used it as an opening in his 1948–1950 radio anthology Destination Freedom.[3]


The song had its roots in the spiritual "Before I'd Be a Slave," which had the central refrain:

O, what preachin'! O, what preachin'!
O, what preachin' over me, over me!
Before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord and be saved.

This was then repeated, with the first two lines changing with each repetition.[4] Modern recordings of this song use these same lyrics, with minor variations in phrasing and structure; the "Oh, Freedom" variant begins with "Oh freedom / Oh freedom / Oh freedom over me."[5]

Some versions have included a verse beginning with "No more tommin',"[citation needed] where the verb tom is a derogatory term denoting some black men's extreme submissiveness towards a white person or white people.[editorializing] The word seems to have been derived from Harriet Beecher Stowe's fictitious character Uncle Tom in her 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. These verses were not part of the original composition, but instead added to the tradition of improvisation in African-American music. Some contemporary folk singers have changed the refrain to a more spirited perspective - "And before I'd be a slave, I'll bury you in your grave and send you home to the lord for free"

Similarly, during the 1964 presidential campaign, civil rights activists opposing the candidacy of Barry Goldwater changed the words to "And before I'd be a slave / I'll see Barry in his grave / And go fight for my rights and be free."[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Hawn, C. Michael. "History of Hymns: 'O Freedom' and 'Freedom is Coming'". Discipleship Ministries: The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  2. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (August 14, 2011). "Music of the Movement: 'Oh Freedom'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  3. ^ Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders, March 16, 2018, History, Memory, and the Power of Black Radio
  4. ^ Barton, William Eleazar (1899). Old Plantation Hymns: A Collection of Hitherto Unpublished Melodies of the Slave and the Freedman, with Historical and Descriptive Notes. Lamson, Wolffe. p. 25.
  5. ^ Frohne, Andrea E. (2015). The African Burial Ground in New York City: Memory, Spirituality, and Space. Syracuse University Press. p. 252. ISBN 978-0815653271.