No More Auction Block for Me

Anonymous, 1867
Also known as "Many Thousand Go(ne)"

Who is the "me" in this song? Who wrote the song?

What is this song about? When was the song probably created?

Circle the phrases that are symbols. What are the "no more…" phrases—auction block, peck of corn, hundred lash—symbols of?

What does "many thousand gone" mean?

What words would you use to describe the mood of this song? How do the words and music set the mood?

If this is an Emancipation song, why doesn't it sound happier? Why might freed slaves have mixed emotions about getting their freedom?

Would you say that this song is a paradox? Why? What other paradoxes in literature or song does this remind you of?

Compare this song with the second verse and chorus of "Marching Through Georgia." Which song is probably the most accurate about African American reactions to Emancipation? Why?

Many African American spirituals from this era—"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" (see VAT Unit 2)—have remained popular until today. Why do you think this song didn't remain as popular?


"No More Auction Block for Me," performed by Odetta on Best of the Vanguard Years, Vanguard, © 2006. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This recording was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the American labor movement. It was recorded in 1988 and features several well-known singers, including Chet Washington, as the lead vocalist, and Odetta, with Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, and Earl Robinson on the chorus. The enslaved people who sang this song originally would not have had piano accompaniment, but they may have improvised the words and melody, as in this performance.

View the music and lyrics for "No More Auction Block for Me."

This song was first published in Slave Songs of the United States in 1867 and belongs to a classification of slave songs known as "protest songs" or "corn songs."

As the text indicates, it has been suggested that this song was first sung when slaves were taken from the islands by the Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard to "build the fortifications at Hilton Head and Bay Point" (Slave Songs, p. 48). This description may refer to the building of Fort Walker initiated in July, 1861, which was designed to prevent Union ships from entering Port Royal Sound. That was before the Emancipation Proclamation; this song was sung with a different spirit once the slaves were all freed.

The words and music of this piece draw on already established music traditions: the repeated "no more" allows for a call-and-response between a leader and a group, while the simplicity of the melodic line allows for both rhythmic and melodic improvisation.

George Henry Andrews, "Slave Auctions in Richmond, Virginia," The Illustrated London News, vol. 38 (Feb. 16, 1861), p.139.

A slave auction in Virginia, USA, in the mid 19th-century. After an illustration by an unidentified artist in the Illustrated London News, February 16, 1861.

Emancipation: Release from slavery or oppression.

call and response: A song form in which a leader sings the song and a group repeats or echoes what he says.

peck of corn, pint of salt: Slave rations.