"Down By the Riverside," a Negro Spiritual


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My church played a powerful sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the day before his Day. It was entitled "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" and was delivered by him at the National Cathedral, only a month before he was killed. In this sermon, he quoted from a Negro spiritual called "Down By the Riverside."


Also called "Ain't Gonna Study War No More" and "Gonna Lay Down My Burden," its composition dates back to before the Civil War. Here's the context of Dr. King's speech in quoting the spiritual:


On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?


There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain’t goin’ study war no more." This is the challenge facing modern man.


Lyrics and stanzas below:


Gonna lay down my burden

Down by the riverside (3×)

Gonna lay down my burden

Down by the riverside


I ain't gonna study war no more

Study war no more

Ain't gonna study war no more


Gonna lay down my heavy load . . .

Gonna lay down my sword and shield . . .

Gonna stick my sword in the golden sand . . .

Gonna try on my long white robe . . .

Gonna try on my starry crown . . .

Gonna put on my golden shoes . . .

Gonna talk with the Prince of Peace . . .

Gonna shake hands around the world . . .

Gonna cross the river Jordan . . .

Gonna climb upon that mountain . . .

Gonna climb the road to heaven . . .

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