- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A symposium at Temple University will focus on the role music played in the underground railroad that was used to help American slaves escape the South for northern states or Canada.

The Rev. Joe Williams, pastor of Mount Airy United Fellowship church, explains that some that some songs still sung by churchgoers today actually contained coded messages for slaves, KYW-TV reported Sunday.

“The chariots (in “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”) were the wagons that would carry people to escape. They talked about going to Canaan - that was Canada,” Williams said. “‘I’m Going Home on the Morning Train’ would be, in the morning we’re going to be escaping and ‘Wade in the Water’ would be get in the water so the hounds can’t pick up your scent.”

“Every song had a meaning to it, coded meaning. It was almost like the CIA,” Williams said.

The symposium being co-sponsored by the Moonstone Arts Center on Wednesday and Thursday will be at the university’s Charles Blockson collection. Blockson is a black studies professor and author who has donated materials to the university. Among them is Harriet Tubman’s hymn book, which includes several songs that were used to give slaves coded guidance on how to escape and what precautions to take.

Williams will be singing and speaking on a panel that will explain how the songs helped guide the slaves to freedom.

Slaves, who were kept illiterate under laws at the time, used the songs to help them navigate unfamiliar geography and keep from being discovered by those who sought to capture them.

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