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28 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 263 (1993)
Stealing Away: Black Women, Outlaw Culture and the Rhetoric of Rights

handle is hein.journals/hcrcl28 and id is 273 raw text is: STEALING AWAY: BLACK WOMEN, OUTLAW
Monica J. Evans*
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus;
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain't got long to stay here.
My Lord calls me; He calls me by the thunder,
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul,
I ain't got long to stay here.1
The African-American spiritual Steal Away is located within
the tradition of escape songs, a series of codes embedded in music
and sung by slaves to alert each other to the time for escape from
bondage to freedom.2 Slaves sang these songs under the very noses
of their captors, who were unable to hear in the music any force
that might subvert their own authority.
* Assistant Professor of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law. B.A., Sarah
Lawrence College, 1981; J.D., Stanford Law School, 1986. The author wishes to express
her debt to her colleagues at Santa Clara and elsewhere, for reading prior drafts and
providing helpful insights and commentary. Special thanks to Professors Margalynne Arm-
strong, Derrick Bell, June Carbone, Martha Fineman, Margaret Russell, Carol Sanger and
Kandis Scott for their support of this project. Thanks are also due to the organizers and
participants of the Fourth Annual (1992) Critical Race Theory Workshop, the 1992 Fem-
inism and Legal Theory Project, Conference on Women and Representation, and the editors
of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Finally, I extend my deepest
gratitude to the Abbess and community of the Abbey of Regina Laudis.
I FiRESIDE BOOK OF FOLK SONGs 298-99 (Margaret B. Boni ed., 1947). The note to
this song represents Steal Away as a response to the miseries of slavery. Id. at 298.
While the song is that, it is much more. Slave songs often were sophisticated communi-
cations systems and were ultimately redemptive. Steal Away offered both a physical release
from slavery (by signaling the time for escape) and a spiritual one (through its message to
steal away to Jesus, in heart if not in body). The representation of slaves as objects of
abject misery with no ability to effect their own redemption, and the omission of mention
of the tradition of spirituals as a means of self-empowerment, are examples of the discount-
ing of African-American voices within dominant narratives.
2 Another escape song in this tradition is Follow the Drinking Gourd, which refers to
the Big Dipper constellation and the North Star, compass directions followed by escaping
slaves. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is also an escape song. If you get there before I do,
... [t]ell all my friends I'm comin' there too, id. at 310-11, contains a double entendre:
to unfriendly ears, this reference was to heaven and to crossing over the River Jordan into
the promised land, but to those aware of the code, it referred to crossing over to freedom
north of the Ohio River and to other natural boundaries separating slave states from free

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