Apr 10 2008

Liberation symbols in Curtis Mayfield’s song, People Get Ready

Train to Jordon, baggage, faith, tickets are key words/concepts with deep symbolic meaning in the lyrics of Mayfield’s song, People Get Ready.

Trains travel a horizontal path across the earth. It is an earthly path, emphacizing the birth to death cycle of life.

While the train travels the horizontal, earthly path, the destination of the train is the “fertile Jordan valley”, a symbol for heaven, where “no ticket is needed, only faith in the lord.”

So, the path is on the vertical axis, symbolic of the earth to heaven journey. The vertical axis also symbolic of the human spine which provides the core structure forthe human body.

The vertical pathway of earth to heaven also symbolizes the duality of our humanity. We are both of the earth and of heaven, of spirit.

Faith is a key word suggesting notions of god and spirituality.

Jordan is a place of salvation where joy, peace and freedom can be experienced here on earth.
The Jordan River is first mentioned when Abraham and Lot parted company. “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the Garden of the Lord.” Genesis 13:10-11.
The horizontal earthly path also suggests freedom and equality. Scholars analyzing social systems will look at the way the resources, like power and wealth are distributed.

In a more horizontal system, the resources will be distributed more equitably and people will feel more empowered. There will be a greater sense of freedom.

In Curtis Mayfield’s America of 1964, African Americans were still fighting for the right to vote, forced to sit at the back of the bus, had separate rest rooms and water fountains, and remembered vividly the violence of the rape, murder, and traumatic abuse of slavery.

I’m sure Curtis heard many stories of racial abuse in the kitchens of his parents, grandmothers and extended family.

The train Mayfield talked about in his song was the spiritual vehicle African Americans would take to leave the legacy of slavery to gain the joy, peace, and freedom available in a transformed America.

His song resonated powerfully with African Americans when it was written and performed in the mid 1960’s.

It has taken a little longer (40 years) for me to get the meaning.

I have it now.

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