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Looking At The South Through African-American Spirituals: Meet Mary D. Williams

An image of the gospel singer Mary D. Williams
Charlie Shelton-Ormond

When Mary D. Williams was a kid growing up in Garner, North Carolina, she often visited her grandparents in Johnston County. She remembers passing a sign that said, “You are in the heart of Klan country” along the way. The sign was a visible example of the racism her grandparents endured in rural North Carolina.

As she got older, Williams listened to her grandmother sing African-American spirituals as a way to cope with racial prejudice. Over time, she absorbed the message of the spirituals and began to sing them herself. Today she is a traditional gospel singer and an educator.

She co-teaches the class “The South in Black and White”for college and university students across the Triangle. In the class, Williams sings spirituals and puts the songs into context of the American South.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Williams about her passion for traditional gospel music and how she incorporates spirituals into her teaching. Williams also sings live in the studio.

Note: This is a rebroadcast. This segment originally aired in March, 2017

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.