Talk:Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

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Unsupported claims about "coded messages"[edit]

This page and several related pages on Wikipedia make the popular and wholly unsupported claim that spirituals were used by members of the Underground Railroad to send "coded messages." The internet source cited in this page as a reference, "Spirituals as Coded Communication," is nice to look at but empty of content. (The Frederick Douglass quotation it uses as evidence is taken out of context and does not support the claim that spirituals contained hidden messages. Read My Bondage and My Freedom if you have doubts: In the passage quoted in footnote 13, Douglass and other slaves are singing the song as a /personal/ expression of their plans to escape, not as a means to communicate secretly with others, and in a later passage he writes that he will not reveal in his book any of the actual “pass-words” used by slaves and abolitionists to communicate certain “things, important to us” (280). In other words, this song's lyrics were not part of any code, at least according to Douglass. Claims of slave songs carrying secret messages may make people feel good today (I think that's why these stories are so popular), but repeating them isn't enough to make them true. At the very least, we should admit when we tell ourselves these stories that we don't have solid, historical evidence to show that songs were used in this manner. Jk180 20:45, 9 August 2007 (UTC)jk180

Minor Reference[edit]

The japanese manga "Jing: King of Bandits" has the first two verses of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot printed between chapters in Volume Six, an allegory of the events of the book. Is this worthy of mention?


It should be added that this spiritual refers to 2 Kings 2:1. (Prophet Elijah being taken up to heaven by a chariot).


I am having toruble formatting the lyrics to make them display correctly [[User:Rex071404|Rex071404 Happyjoe.jpg ]]

Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan And what did I see, Coming for to carry me home A band of angels Coming after me Coming for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home

If you get there Before I do Coming for to carry me home Tell all my friends I'm coming too Coming for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home

Sometimes I'm up And sometimes I'm down Coming for to carry me home But still my soul Feels heavenly bound Coming for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home Swing low, sweet chariot Coming for to carry me home

England Rugby[edit]

I think perhaps we should include an explanation of why the England Rugby team uses this spiritual. The Story is at England_national_rugby_union_team#Post-War but is probably more appropriate here.

I put one here some time ago but somebody deleted it. It is pretty well atested too. I think there should still be a mention of the incident in the main article on the England rugby union team but feel free to edit it down.GordyB 10:46, 6 April 2006 (UTC)

my club (in the u.s.) sang swing low long before 1988. this story seems to suggest that year as the origin for its connection with rugby in the u.k. surely that can't be so.Toyokuni3 (talk) 20:41, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

Just because your club in the US sang this song pre-88 does not mean that anybody in England did so.GordyB (talk) 20:45, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

do i detect a note of offense in your reply? if so, sorry. that certainly wasn't my intent. but i have always thought of rugby tradition travelling east to west across the pond, not vice versa.i know you lot originated most of the songs we sang. the mayor of bayswater, the sexual life of the camel, the whoredean school and of course, why was he born so beautiful.Toyokuni3 (talk) 23:02, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

No hostility but this is an American song, it wouldn't be that surprising for Americans to be singing it. Also note that this is not a British tradition per se, it is only associated with the England team not English rugby as a whole and certainly not rugby in the other parts of the UK.GordyB (talk) 23:07, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

Sorry Gordy B, you are talking out of your proverbial. The song has been connected to UK rugby for far longer than its supposed introduction to the national game by some schoolboys, lovely story though that is. It might be in the article and cited, but it's not true. My UK university (Cambridge) college rugby team sung Swing Low in the late 70s, not just as a drinking game - at matches too. Other Cambridge college teams sang it too. Ask Rob Andrew - he was singing it in the early 80s at university. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:52, 13 October 2015 (UTC)

Fighter Pilots[edit]

This is also used as a drinking game by fighter pilots. The first person to incorrectly give the gestures for this song is required to buy the next round of drinks.
Please get a reference for this.

I find it intersting that the ENTIRE article is unreferenced.

John Mehlberg (email) 17:59, 30 June 2006 (UTC)

Article content[edit]

As "one of the best-known spirituals," this article gives very little information on the song's origins. Most of the content is its modern use at sports games. That's not what the song is about. The "gestures" are not identified for their origin. This is clearly one of the secular versions (but which one?), not the version from church school. I don't feel the sports usage is particularly important; it doesn't fit with the article and it should be minimalized or nixed entirely. Willy Logan 05:22, 17 April 2006 (UTC)

I agree that the gestures seem irrelevant. Perhaps we could spin off a new article called Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (rugby) or some such article name. MPS 13:29, 17 April 2006 (UTC)
Swing low sweet chariot is primarily known in England for its association with rugby union not because of its religious / slave origins. It is famous around the rugby playing world for this association. The words are exactly the same as would be sung by a gospel choir since it was a gospel choir that started the English rugby tradition. I don't see any need for a separate article, if the song means different things to different people this is hardly unusual.GordyB 10:27, 8 June 2006 (UTC)
If I may add to Gordy's comment, I believe the song is, in a lot of places, mainly known now for its association to English rugby; eg. in places like Australia and New Zealand. To be totally honest, I never really even thought about where the song came from or what its original use was, I merely associated it with England rugby, and I don't even live anywhere near England, so I think the sports usage is very important to ensure the article is written in a worldwide view, and I can only see it being moved to another page if the rugby info is large enough to warrant its own page, which, at present, is fine in the main article. Cvene64 08:05, 9 July 2006 (UTC)
The Rugby-related information is entirely unrelated to the song's usage in the United States. As an American from the South, I find this article to be almost useless. People from other English-speaking countries may find the sports information useful, but to make it the ENTIRE FOCUS of this article is idiotic, and frankly disrespectful to Southern culture. There are many people who use this song as a lullaby for children, for instance. I guarantee that 99.9% of Americans have never even heard of the Rugby union much less this song's usage there. This is absolute garbage written by uncultured morons. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)
Tough.07:31, 16 September 2007 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by GordyB (talkcontribs)
If it distresses you that this article is overly focuses on the rugby union usage of this song, the obvious correction would be to add some quality, sourced material about other aspects. As an American from the South you may be qualified to make such a contribution, no? --Stormie 07:25, 18 September 2007 (UTC)
Well, I don't have those other sourced materials that you mention, but I can tell you this much: we are arranging this song for a performance by elementary school children and we had _thought_ we might refer the children to Wikipedia to get an understanding of the context of the song, but masturbation gestures are hardly an appropriate detail to give to grade 5 students. 14:51, 30 September 2007 (UTC)
I can sympathise but unfortunately Wikipedia is meant to be written for adults rather than children. If we wrote every article in a "child-safe" way then it would mean losing a lot of important content. I would suggest a different source, perhaps the Catholic encylopaedia (available on-line) would be more suitable as I doubt they mention the rugby version.GordyB 17:15, 30 September 2007 (UTC)

I'd add that even if the article were "clean", I would not recommend using it in a lesson. The unfortunate downside of an encyclopaedia that anyone can edit is that anyone can vandalise it. You would not want to open the article up and find that somebody had dlete the article and posted random swearwords (as does happen).GordyB 18:34, 30 September 2007 (UTC)

Note to and other vandals[edit]

Stop vandalising this article whether you like the rugby song or not, it exists and is notable. Continually deleting it is censorship and will be reverted.GordyB 12:46, 9 September 2006 (UTC)

Can you add a reference to these gestures then please? At the very least there is no way they can be described as traditional! In any case what do you you think it serves adding these gestures. If you feel strongly about it then it would be acceptable to have a line saying something like "the song is sometimes song with sexual actions" If I didn't know already, I (might!) be interested to know that but I don't need to know what they are Take the page [Child_sexual_abuse]. It can discuss the issue but it does not need to go into detail. Remember that wikipedia is for everyone. It is not a place for you to create your own little bit of the web. I know you might be upset that people are deleting you text but should make you think that perhaps you could make the article better. Graemec2 14:42, 3 November 2006 (UTC)

They are traditional within English rugby union. I knew of them almost 15 years ago. The gestures go with the song. You might as well not include the lyrics since you don't really need to know them as you only need to know what the song is about.
Re: your point about child abuse. The gestures do not refer to anything more disturbing than masturbation. Wikipedia is meant to be free of censorship, if the gestures were inciting rape or sexual abuse then you'd have a point but masturbation is in no way a crime.GordyB 15:08, 3 November 2006 (UTC)
As for references see the external links.GordyB 15:15, 3 November 2006 (UTC)

Yep there is no doubt that you have a bona fide Wikipedia article there. But I suggest that you try going up to a stranger in the srteet(a policeman would be best) and give action number four to them. Just because something exists doesnt mean it automatically is suitable for wikipedia. Your english, im sure you have been to plenty of sporting events in the past where there have been racist_chanting yet I don't seem to be able to find that page on wikipedia. Yes wikipedia is meant to be free from censorship which is why I will not edit your offensive text alone. Im not going to visit this page again but I am certain you will have to make regular visits to revert edits from people who are "vandelising" "your page". ps I'm just wondering if I should stick the common repose sung by Scottish and Welsh fans. "You can stick your f***ing chariot up your arse" on the page. Im sure I can find a reference for it. pps Did you notice that used I f***ing there? Thats right I censored myself out of respect for others who might read this page. Maybe you might thing about doing the same. |||| Graemec2 13:42, 7 November 2006 (UTC)

Deleting sourced content from a page is vandalism. That's the end of the matter. There's no right to delete what you do not like. If you or anybody else want to add to the article then you are welcome to do so providing what you add passes Wiki's criteria. For the record I have never been to any sporting event where racist chanting took place and IMO this is a suitable topic for a Wiki page.GordyB 20:19, 7 November 2006 (UTC)

Clearly the association with Rugby is a distinct issue from the history of the traditional church hymn -- isn't that reason enough to break the drinking game out of the main page and into a seperate Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (rugby) page that can be then independently cross-referenced with Category:"Drinking Games" and Category:"Sports Anthems" tags? Teledyn 15:04, 30 September 2007 (UTC)

No, it is the same song. If the article becomes too long then splitting into two becomes reasonable so long as there is a brief summary of the rugby song and a link to the main article. At present there is not enough content to justify this.GordyB 17:12, 30 September 2007 (UTC)


There isn't really a place for this in the article, but I just corrected an error that said Elvis Presley recorded the song for one of his movies. That was "Swing Down Sweet Chariot", a completely different song. 23skidoo 18:57, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

Confusing statement[edit]

The history section begins with: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was composed by Wallis Willis" and later goes on to state: "Unfortunately, the original composer's name is permanently lost to history. Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school, heard Willis singing the songs and transcribed the words and melodies." These statements seem absolutely contradictory, but neither has a source, so I'm unsure of how to approach correcting it. -=Worloq=- 19:09, 6 November 2007 (UTC)

Ranked in[edit]

The song is ranked #1200 of all-time at Acclaimed Music, a site which aggregates music critics lists from around the world to compose a "consensus" list of great music. Not sure if this merits mention in the article or not. I am not a flack for the site, just someone who uses it and thought it might merit mention. GBrady (talk) 20:52, 10 July 2008 (UTC)


I have removed the gestures section for a number of reasons. One, there should be some kind of reference to the idea that the gestures are associated with the song. In this case, a cultural reference is appropriate. Two or more would be good. I believe there may be a short scene of the song in Blazing Saddles. The other reason I removed the content is that a masturbatory gesture in a popular folk song is dubious, though it may be true. As this is a case in which believability is suspect, a tag is not appropriate. Please source the content if you add it again. Tealwisp (talk) 02:35, 4 February 2009 (UTC)

The material was sourced.GordyB (talk) 12:20, 4 February 2009 (UTC)
I didn't see a citation, or even an external link. Could you please post it here? Tealwisp (talk) 22:09, 4 February 2009 (UTC)
I rechecked, and checked the links, and I restored the content, however, I would like to know what makes this particular version representative of other versions, as it is used as a drinking song in this case, and is part of a collection of songs that are tailored toward sexual puns, and wouldn't likely be the "official" choreography. Tealwisp (talk) 22:21, 4 February 2009 (UTC)
Nobody said that it was official. It is just widespread.GordyB (talk) 19:08, 5 February 2009 (UTC)
Yes, but we need to know how widespread it is, because it is of questionable popularity. If you can't place a citation for how widespred it is, I'll have to remove it, especially because it likely violates the how-to guidelines. If you can find some sort of relevance for the dance itself, we can and should definitely leave the content. Otherwise, we will have to delete it. This is only because the article's structure makes it easy to think that these gestures are the socially accepted standard, when these gestures would never be performed in good company. Tealwisp (talk) 20:03, 7 February 2009 (UTC)
The gestures exist and this is a verified fact. The article does not make a statement as to how common / widespread they are so it is unreasonable to expect this fact to be referenced. There is no "dance".GordyB (talk) 20:37, 8 February 2009 (UTC)
The reason for sourcing the spread of the gestures is that they are implied to be the "standard." Furthermore, it falls under the how-to guides. If the dance itself were important, or if it had great significance to rugby unions, it would definitely belong. However, all that has been said is that it exists, and it's verified. I'm an inclusionist, but the gestures just don't seem to add enouhg to justify the their potentially misleading nature. Until such time as you can assert their importance outside of just existing, I'm going to take them down. As a tip, The Loco-Motion has references to the dance because it is a song about the dance. That's one way you can justify the gestures' inclusion. I hope you can be satisfied with this outcome, as I prefer to let the administrators deal with more important matters than this. Tealwisp (talk) 01:05, 13 February 2009 (UTC)
Just how many times do I need to say "There is no dance"?
The gestures are not stated or implied to be standard, this is why the paragraph is head "Gestures that *sometimes* accompany the song. I don't really think it is necessary to cite a source that says that making obscene gestures is occasionally inappropriate.GordyB (talk) 16:41, 13 February 2009 (UTC)
I'm not saying there is a dance, I'm saying that the section implies that these gestures are widespread. They are only notable within the "rugby universe," and if you hadn't noticed, I did leave that segment on the article, as it has merit. It seems to me, however, that the gestures themselves aren't too important. What is important is that the song has importance of note to those within the rugby universe, which is itself a stretch for inclusion, as it is fairly anglo-centric. Would you prefer it if I simply placed a request for admin intervention? We could settle this much faster. Tealwisp (talk) 02:55, 14 February 2009 (UTC)
It certainly might help because you aren't reading things before you delete them. The has house harriers aren't anything to do with the rugby universe and your definition of "notable" is at odds with that used by Wikipedia. The section is referenced, therefore, it is notable, your opinion about the minority interest is just that - your opinion.GordyB (talk) 14:29, 14 February 2009 (UTC)
What is notable is the fact that the song has relevance to the Hash House Harriers, not the gestures themselves. The fact that there is a citation for the gestures serves only to confirm their existence, it does not confirm their notability to those who are not Harriers. The citation with gestures is on the Harrier's of Ankara's website, not that of a third party. The independent source touches only on those gestures' existence, not the actual gestures. If I am using "rugby" incorrectly, you should correct the article, as you are from Yorkshire, or so your userpage says. In light of our on-going conflict, I am going to stop restoring the article until a third party has intervened. Tealwisp (talk) 00:36, 16 February 2009 (UTC)

ANd for another, you aren't even using the word "rugby" correctly.GordyB (talk) 14:32, 14 February 2009 (UTC)

Righteo, I'm mediating, providing that's okay with everyone. I would ask you to stay on-topic rather than discussing whether 'rugby' is accurate or not, this will only make heated debate.

Can a compromise be made? Perhaps the gestures existence could be mentioned in the article, but not elaborated on. The mention on the Irish Indie is clearly a reliable source, but this doesn't go into detail on these gestures. Is the other source as reliable? If not, the details cannot be included as they're not verifiable with the sources given. But its existence can be confirmed, and mention.

Is this agreeable for all? Computerjoe's talk 00:41, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

Why should they not be elaborated on? They exist, they are verified, they are thematic linked to this article. I am willing to find another source if the ones that exist aren't acceptable but I think it is unreasonable to ask for a source that says that the gestures wouldn't be performed in polite company. It is blindingly obvious that making mastubatory gestures isn't acceptable to everybody and really doesn't need referencing.GordyB (talk) 09:29, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information. Should enough be found in reliable sources I expect Tealwisp would not argue. Naturally, I may be wrong and look forward to their opinion. Computerjoe's talk 11:52, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
It is also not a link repository which is why I feel that merely linking to the gestures is not sufficient.GordyB (talk) 12:37, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
I would suggest a compromise. Let us await Tealwisp's response before proceeding any further :) Computerjoe's talk 15:02, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
Wikipedia is not a democracy.GordyB (talk) 16:16, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
Absolutely. It's based on consensus, so lets try to get some agreement! Computerjoe's talk 16:26, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
No, it is not. Wikipedia_is_not_a_dictionary.#Wikipedia_is_not_a_democracy. It is based on verifiability.GordyB (talk) 16:32, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
I meant Wikipedia absolutely is not a democracy. So let's get some verifiable agreement. Anyway, lets just wait. Computerjoe's talk 16:37, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
Sorry I took so long, I've been out of it for a few days. Anyway, the compromise that Computerjoe described is precisely what I was aiming for with my revision. If a reliable source can be found to establish the importance of the gestures themselves, I would absolutely encourage their inclusion. My only objection to them at the moment is that they misrepresent more common gestures. The only problem with the citation for their existence is that it's a first party source and does not go into the gestures' actual significance. Tealwisp (talk) 05:55, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

Computerjoe did not mention that any source has to go into the gestures' significance merely that the 3rd party source needs to confirm that the gestures are as stated.GordyB (talk) 10:05, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

The sources all clearly have to indicate notability etc. but I feel the coverage in the Irish Indie covers it. No doubt further sources could be found. Computerjoe's talk 10:20, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

Tealwisp asked me to drop by here. This is a pure content dispute, so me being an admin doesn't really have a bearing. I can offer an opinion as an uninvolved user, though. It is my opinion that we don't need the whole recapitulation of the gestures in the song. We don't have to show that the information is "notable" per-se (As notability guidelines do not delimit content), but we do need to show that the gestures in the rugby song are not being given undue weight relative to their importance. And, IMO, relative to the importance of the song as a whole, the specific gestures used in the fight song aren't really all that important. Arguably Wikipedia:Lyrics and poetry suggests we shouldn't rely on a full quote of the lyrics period, let along accompanying gestures of derivative works. We wouldn't include the fully lyrics to a parody or cover of this song. Just my thoughts. Protonk (talk) 18:26, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

I had a feeling that the entire section might simply be merged up, as my edit fits fairly easily into a previous section. I think a simple mention of the gestures' existence is enough, with the citations. Do you object, GordyB? Tealwisp (talk) 00:47, 19 February 2009 (UTC)
Here is what I suggest. It also serves to clean the article's layout. Tealwisp (talk) 03:51, 19 February 2009 (UTC)
GordyB? Computerjoe's talk 17:48, 19 February 2009 (UTC)
Can we have some consensus or can this case be closed with Tealwisp's proposal being accepted? Computerjoe's talk 13:15, 22 February 2009 (UTC)

Agreed. I don't see the need to reference the exact usage of the gestures but I take the point about undue emphasis.GordyB (talk) 13:19, 22 February 2009 (UTC)

Jolly good. Thanks for reaching a solution. Computerjoe's talk 13:22, 22 February 2009 (UTC)

I am confussed from what I know about the songs origin[edit]

This whole article is some what wrong. Is it really a black gospel song? Are or black people trying to steal another Gospel like they are trying to do Amazing grace, even though Amazing Grace was made by a British.

You have a point. It was (according to the article) written by a Native American, I'm really not sure why we are discribing it as a Negro spiritual. It certainly would not have been a Negro spiritual at the time of writing. Even odder, there is no mention of when the song became popular with black Americans.GordyB (talk) 17:21, 24 March 2009 (UTC)

Wallace Willis was a black slave whose master owned a plantation within the Choktaw nation. That doesn't make him Native American. The whole attribution to Wallace Willis is sketchy, and frankly this Wikipedia article is the only major source I've found tht attributes the song to WW. Some other internet sites seem to rely on this source in giving such attribution. And how have black people been trying to steal Amazing Grace? even if an ignoranty comment or two have been made, when has an actual claim of authorship for that song been made on behalf of a black composer? Tedborgerding (talk) 06:10, 13 April 2009 (UTC)


THis song is AMAZING!!!!!! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:25, 14 January 2010 (UTC)

Dead external links to Allmusic website – January 2011[edit]

Since Allmusic have changed the syntax of their URLs, 1 link(s) used in the article do not work anymore and can't be migrated automatically. Please use the search option on to find the new location of the linked Allmusic article(s) and fix the link(s) accordingly, prefereably by using the {{Allmusic}} template. If a new location cannot be found, the link(s) should be removed. This applies to the following external links:

--CactusBot (talk) 11:17, 2 January 2011 (UTC)

Notable allusion[edit]

There's a song on The Ballad of Sally Rose that closes the album, and it's called "Sweet Chariot", the chorus is:

Swing down sweet chariot
The flesh will fall and the bones will rot
But from my sorrow you'll carry me not
My heart is bound, my soul is chained to the rock.

Any objections on including this allusion here? It's an important album (if commercially a failure) in E. Harris' career.

dnik 12:44, 13 May 2011 (UTC)


""Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was written by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory in what is now Choctaw County, near the County seat of Hugo, Oklahoma sometime before 1862."

It seems unlikely that Wallis Willis was a Choctaw freedman before the Civil War. "The Choctaw freedmen were enslaved African Americans who became part of the Choctaw Nation with emancipation after the American Civil War, a requirement of the 1866 treaty the US made with the Choctaw."

Kenif (talk) 03:16, 16 March 2014 (UTC

I agree, there is a problem. There is a link in this article to Choctaw freedmen. The dates seem incompatible. Instead of "before 1862" it seems it should be "after 1865", so I'll make that change. Marlindale (talk) 01:30, 24 April 2016 (UTC)