God is Just, Race & Gender — August 28, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Deep River – Paul Robeson as Gospel Singer and Justice Advocate

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Paul Robeson, the legendary African-American singer, actor, and social activist, was in a little-known 1940 film, “The Proud Valley.” Documenting the lives of Welsh coal miners, the film did something unheard of and made a black actor the star of a mostly-white cast movie. More than that, it also offered a mix of piety and social activism which within just a few years would push Robeson to the rejected margins of American entertainment.

I grew up hearing Robeson, improbably channeled through my mother teaching us what were basically his versions of various gospel songs. The most memorable for me was “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”; I recall clearly sitting with her at our back dining room table as she sang to us and with us, everyone really socking it when we got to “and the walls came a tumblin’ down!”

“Joshua” will have to wait. Here’s “Deep River,” from the afore-mentioned film “Proud Valley.” Complete lyrics are listed beneath video.

Deep River

Deep River,
My home is over Jordan.
Deep River, Lord.
I want to cross over into campground.

Deep River.
My home is over Jordan.
Deep River, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground.

Oh, don’t you want to go,
To the Gospel feast;
That Promised Land,
Where all is peace?

Oh, deep River, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground.

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