Saturday, August 26, 2006

 

No More The Moon Shines On Lorena

Carter Family Photo from the PBS Program The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be UnbrokenDuring the Great Depression, the Carter Family—A. P., Sara, and Maybelle--became national stars of American music. These Appalachian mountain folk helped transform music and the music business. They recorded their first song in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee and by 1938 their music was being "blasted all over the world" from Mexico on "XERA, the most powerful of the Border Radio stations." Interestingly, their publicists presented them as the picture of marital bliss but Sara separated from her husband, A. P., in 1933 and divorced him in 1936.

During the Great Depression, in 1930, the Carters recorded "No More The Moon Shines On Lorena"—the sad story of the courtship and forced parting of two slaves. According to the liner notes from the 1995 Rounder Records CD The Carter Family: Worried Man Blues, the song was copyrighted in 1889 by Louis Stabb.
No More The Moon Shines On Lorena

Way down upon the old plantation
Old Massey used to own me as a slave
He had a yeller gal he called Lorena
And we courted where the wild bananas waved

For long years there we courted
And we were as happy as one
And my hard work for did Massey
And the happiness of life had just begun
No more the moon shines on Lorena
As we'd sit and watch the coons among the corn
And the possums laying on the wild bananas
And the old owl a hootin like a horn
One day I called to see my dear Lorena
I thought she would meet me at the gate
But they took her away to old Virginy
And left me to mourn for her fate

For years I have longed to see her
And the thoughts of her was ever in my head
One day Massey read me a letter
Telling me that Lorena she was dead
Repeat chorus
But I know that her soul has gone to heaven
And there she is ever free from pain
And to her a brighter crown is given
And no more she will wear the darkie's chain
Repeat chorus
Lyrics provided courtesy of Bluegrass Lyrics.Com!


Sung in the first-person, "No More The Moon Shines On Lorena" may seem an unlikely choice for a trio of White musicians from Poor Valley, Virginia but it is likely that the Carters knew ex-slaves and were sympathetic to the oppression Black people had endured under slavery and Jim Crow. The oldest, A. P. was born in 1891, just 26 years after the end of the Civil War. The Carters also teamed up with the Black Blues guitarist Lesley Riddle in 1928. Riddle and A. P. travelled together collecting songs and Riddle taught songs and guitar techniques to Maybelle.

The Carters were born and raised in a part of the South that, in the years before the Civil War, was riddled with abolitionists and had largely opposed secession. My own mother's maternal grandparents came from Hawkins County, Tennessee, just one small mountain ridge (Pine Ridge) to the south of, and in the same Holston River watershed, as the Carter Family's home--about 40 miles apart. A branch of the Underground Railroad ran through the area.

According to "Anti-slavery and Quakers in East Tennessee:"
East Tennessee was largely anti-slavery in its sentiments and politics. Because the economy was not based on the type of agriculture that required slave labor and because of abolitionism, prompted by religious and moral convictions, opposition to slavery emerged very early. In 1797, one year after Tennessee became a state, the Friends Society, more commonly known as the Quakers, began to organize opposition to slavery. This was the work of Elihu and Elijah Embree, sons of a Quaker minister who came to East Tennessee from Pennsylvania in 1790. Elihu, an iron manufacturer, owned slaves as a young man but by the time he was thirty, was an ardent abolitionist. By 1815, he was a leader in the abolitionist society organized in Greene County.

Embree first published The Emancipator in April of 1820 in Jonesborough (Washington County). The monthly periodical was the first publication in the United States devoted exclusively to the antislavery cause. He called slaveholders "monsters in human flesh" and argued vehemently against additional slave-holding states being allowed in the Union. Embree's condemnation of slavery was as harsh as any including the better-known abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who began publishing his newspaper, The Liberator, in the 1830s. By the time The Liberator was first published, there were 25 anti-slavery societies in Tennessee with a membership of about 1000.
The 1939 Federal Writers' Project's Tennessee: A Guide to the State notes:
... There had, however, always been a fairly strong anti-slavery element in Tennessee, and when the first constitution was adopted in 1796 nearly 2,000 Tennesseans petitioned the convention to abolish slavery after 1854.

... As early as 1797 the Knoxville Gazette was urging that an abolition society be organized. The Manumission Society of Tennessee was formed in 1815 at Lost Creek, Jefferson County, by the Reverend Charles Osborn, who later established, in Ohio, the Philanthropist - a journal partly devoted to anti-slavery propaganda. An early member of the Manumission Society was Elihu Embree. Though a [former] slaveholder, Embree founded the Manumission Intelligencer, a weekly which was succeeded by his monthly Emancipator. These were the first periodicals in the United States exclusively devoted to abolition. After Embree's death in 1820, Benjamin Lundy took up the work and began publishing the Genius of Universal Emancipation in Ohio. In 1822 Lundy transferred his paper to Greeneville, Tennessee, and continued his activities there until 1824, when he moved to Baltimore to collaborate with William Lloyd Garrison. Out of these efforts grew many anti-slavery societies. Most of the early pioneer preachers were strong abolitionists, and "as late as 1827, East Tennessee alone contained nearly one-fifth of all anti-slavery societies in the United States and nearly one-sixth of the total membership." ...
And according to the Tennessee Newspaper Project:
By far the best known and most infamous anti-slavery editor and printer was William Gannaway Brownlow, whose gubernatorial likeness, known as the spitting portrait because of the post-war legislators' habit of anointing it with tobacco juice as they descended the stairs in the Capitol, was removed to the safer confines of the Tennessee State Museum in 1987. Brownlow was a man of strong opinions, and one never had to wonder which side of an issue he favored. He began the Tennessee Whig in Elizabethton in 1839, then moved it to Jonesboro in 1840 as simply the Whig. In 1851, he changed the name to Brownlow's Whig and moved the paper to Knoxville, where it was published until 1861, when the Civil War made it both inconvenient and imprudent to remain in Tennessee any longer. At this time Brownlow moved his family north, then returned in 1863 to revive the Whig. From 1865 until 1869, he took a hiatus from publishing to become the state's Reconstruction governor.
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