I Am the Light of this World

Well, prayer is the key to heaven,

And, faith unlocks the door

That’s why my God gave me the key,

And, He told me to carry it wherever I go

Loved Ones, below are the links to two versions of “I Am the Light of this World.” I send these to you because of the madly transcendent character of the music: As you read in the story “the Union Band” (https://alexandersjeunity.medium.com/the-union-band-ee6c9c8265fd), Reverend Blind Gary Davis was performing at a time that was equidistant between two revolutionary movements — that of the 1860’s revolution to overthrow chattel slavery, and that of the 1960’s revolution to overthrow Jim Crow and U.S. monopoly capitalism.

I send this to you, because of the emphasis some of you place on the very different faces we wear in order to maintain and continue to prosecute our freedom struggle.

I heard Bunky and Jake’s version of this song when I lived as a child in Skyview Acres, an upper middle class White neighborhood — this is evidence of the reach of the 1960’s revolutionary movement. And their changing of the lyrics of the song was evidence of the same: Reverend Davis still employed the pre-Union Band wording, “And when I get to heaven, I gonna join that fiery band…” This is also evidence of the ebb and flow of history, one step forward, two steps back: Remember, on the plantation, in the field, under that long, long whip, we sang of Harriet and the guerrillas coming to chop off Massa’s head with words like,

Swing low

Sweet chariot

Comin’ for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan

And what did I see?

Comin’ for to carry me home?

A band of angels [Harriet and the guerrillas]

Comin’ after me

Comin for to carry me home

This revolutionary song was acceptable to Massa because he thought they were talking about the afterlife.

When these same enslaved Africans escaped behind Union lines, and joined the Union Army, they could sing openly

John Brown’s body

Lies a smolderin’

In the grave

But his spirit

Marches on

In the same manner, Bunky and Jake change the reference to heaven and the hereafter to “I belong to the band [right here and now], Hallelujuh.” They then add their own lyrics, apropos of the revolutionary movement of the times:

What kind of band you talkin’ ‘bout?

I’m talkin’ ‘bout the Union Band

It is also revolutionary to go back to our ancestors for help: In researching this story, I found this outrageous performer, Reverend Blind Gary Davis. Yes, his lyrics reflect a step back from the 1860’s revolution. They also reflect the uninterrupted character of the freedom fight. And this is unmistakable in the tenor of his voice and the cry in his throat. To hear him sing, it is no wonder that Bunky and Jake felt compelled to carry on the tradition, to carry on the spirit of this song: Reverend Davis’ version is equally as revolutionary as that of Bunky and Jake, if for no other reason than its beauty engulfs your body — you can’t miss the message.

I Am the Light of this World

Reverend Blind Gary Davis


Bunky and Jake