This essay explores the trope of the wilderness in the slave spirituals, arguing that it functions to recreate symbolically the natural landscape into which slaves regularly took refuge in order to elude white surveillance. Drawing on a variety of sources, it considers the unique surveillance culture in the antebellum South, its effect on the everyday lives of the slaves, and the ways in which the slaves used their natural surroundings to avoid it. It then uses a close analysis of the song "Go in the Wilderness " as a point of departure for a broader discussion of the way the wilderness becomes central, both thematically and structurally, to the spirituals as a whole.

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Copyright © 2011 Washington State University Press. This article first appeared in Western Journal of Black Studies 35, no. 2 (March 1, 2011): 106-17. Reprinted with permission by Washington State University Press.

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