Not far from Stoughton Wisconsin, where my family and I lived for 19 years before moving back to Minnesota, sits the little town of Milton. This unassuming community, founded in 1838, once sat at the military crossroads between Chicago and Madison, and also the road between Janesville and Ft. Atkinson. It is no wonder then, that in 1845 the founder of the town built the Milton House, an octagonal-shaped hotel for weary travelers to stop and rest before moving on toward their destination. I never gave the town of Milton a second thought until my boys shared their experiences while on a school field trip to the Milton House to tour the Underground Railroad. I was shocked when I learned that a portion of the Underground Railroad was located just a stone's throw from our house. From then on, the image of the Railroad, once vague and distant in the mind of this white descendent of slaveowners, claimed a distinct and personal place in my heart; who knows--even some of those enslaved by my ancestors may have travelled through Milton on their way to Canada and to freedom!
For the past three weeks of Advent I have been featuring Christmas carols that speak of hope in the midst of sorrow and uncertainty. One could say that these carols are 'songs of resistance,' in that the hope and joy of which they speak is in resistance to the sources of all sorrow and suffering: sin and death. As we approach the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I would like to offer a bit of information that I found on umcdiscipleship.org on another 'song of resistance' in the form of a well-known Christmas carol-- "Go Tell It On the Mountain":
"The Fisk Jubilee Singers (drawing their name from Leviticus 25—the year of jubilee) were founded as a ten-member touring ensemble to raise funds for debt-ridden Fisk University. Taking the entire contents of the University treasury with them for travel expenses, they departed on October 6, 1871, from Nashville on their difficult, but ultimately successful eighteen-month tour, a triumph that is still celebrated annually as Jubilee Day on the campus.
Taking the spiritual to white and black audiences in the United States and Europe earned the school and the spiritual an international reputation. The small ensemble of two quartets and a pianist grew to a full choral ensemble. Other historically black colleges eventually followed the same pattern, including Howard University (Washington, D.C.) and Tuskegee Institute (now University, Tuskegee, Alabama).
The earliest version of the spiritual appeared in in Religious Folk Songs of The Negro, as Sung on The Plantations, new edition (1909) with the heading 'Christmas Plantation Song '. "
John Wesley Work, Jr. (1872?-1925), who led the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1898-1904 with his brother, is thought to have written an adaptation of the original song based on Luke 2:8-20, and can be found in the United Methodist Hymnal, No. 251:
Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born!
1 While shepherds kept their watching, o’er silent flocks by night,
behold throughout the heavens, there shone a holy light. [Refrain]
2 The shepherds feared and trembled, when lo! above the earth
rang out the angel chorus, that hailed our Savior’s birth. [Refrain]
3 Down in a lowly manger, the humble Christ was born,
and God sent us salvation, that blessed Christmas morn. [Refrain]
As we approach the day of the birth of our Savior, may you feel the hope that inspired this heart-lifting Christmas song!