We'll Understand It Better By and By

Charles Tindley, 1905

What are some of the metaphors this song uses? Stormy sea and skies; land of perfect day; morning; gathered home; promised land; our hearts are made to bleed. What do they stand for?

Does it sound like this song was written for people who were primarily urban or rural? Poor, prosperous, or middle class? What are the clues?

This song was written in 1905 by a Black gospel songwriter, Charles Tindley, and was first sung by African American congregations. What particular trials were they going through at the time the song was written?

This song also appealed to white congregations. Why? What trials might they share with African Americans? What trials would they not have in common?

What were some of the things people singing this song probably wanted to understand better? What do you think the biggest question was for them? How would better understanding help?

What are some of the "big questions" that you wish you understood better? How similar are they to the questions people were concerned about in 1905? How are they different? What do you think are some of the "timeless" questions that humans have always wondered about? Why do "good" people suffer and "bad" people prosper? Why do I keep repeating the same mistakes when I want to do better?, etc.


"We'll Understand it Better By and By" performed by The Ambassadors Chorale and Ensemble. All rights reserved. © 2004.

The Ambassadors Chorale and Ensemble of Philadelphia, a semi-professional organization that specializes in historically informed performances of choral music, recorded this performance.

View the music and lyrics for "We'll Understand It Better By and By."

Charles Albert Tindley
Portrait of Charles Alan Tindley.

Charles Tindley (1851–1933) was a popular preacher and composer of gospel songs. While preparing for the Methodist ministry, Tindley worked as a janitor, passing the ministerial exam in 1885. After a series of pastorates in New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware, he became pastor of the Bainbridge Street Church in Philadelphia, where, by the time of his death, he had increased the membership to more than 10,000. Tindley began composing songs as early as 1901, specializing in those that inspired the Black religious community. He wrote gospel songs that dealt with topics important to his pastorate and were simple, straightforward, and easily understood by the poor and often illiterate people he ministered to.

Musically, Tindley's works are easily accessible, with simple melodies and repetitive structures that were easy to memorize. Although he was musically illiterate, Tindley dictated to someone who would notate and arrange his music. Six of his songs appeared in the hymnal Gospel Pearls (1921), the first hymnal published specifically for Black churches. Several of Tindley's compositions are still popular, including "I'll Overcome Someday" which inspired the Civil Rights song "We Shall Overcome" (see Unit 8), and "Stand By Me" (1905).

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Find examples of the "big questions" in literature through the ages. Which of these questions are universal and which seem to be related just to the author's era?