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Virginia State Flag Virginia

The Virginia Official Song Emeritus

Carry Me Back to Old Virginny

words and music by James Bland

    Carry me back to old Virginny,
    There's where the cotton and the corn and tatoes grow,
    There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime,
    There's where the old darkey's heart am long'd to go,
    There's where I labor'd so hard for old massa,
    Day after day in the field of yellow corn,
    No place on earth do I love more sincerely
    Than old Virginny, the state where I was born.

   CHORUS:
    Carry me back to old Virginny,
    There's where the cotton and the corn and tatoes grow,
    There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime,
    There's where this old darkey's heart am long'd to go.

    Carry me back to old Virginny,
    There let me live 'till I wither and decay,
    Long by the old Dismal Swamp have I wander'd,
    There's where this old darkey's life will pass away.
    Massa and missis have long gone before me,
    Soon we will meet on that bright and golden shore,
    There we'll be happy and free from all sorrow,
    There's where we'll meet and we'll never part no more.

About James Allen Bland

James Allen Bland
James Allen Bland

The story began with James Bland when he wrote "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" in 1878.

James "Jimmy" Allen Bland was born on October 22, 1854 in Flushing, Long Island, New York. When he was 12 and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he saw an old black man playing a banjo and singing spirituals. He fell in love with the banjo and tried to make one using bailing wire for strings. This didn't work very well and, besides, a big kid took it and broke it into pieces. Jimmy's father bought him a real banjo for $8.00 and Jimmy taught himself to play... very well.

Later, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Jimmy finished high school and enrolled in Howard University. He was so talented and had become so proficient with the banjo that he was entertaining professionally at private parties and in hotels and restaurants from the time he was 14.

At Howard University, he met a young lady named Mannie Friend. On a trip with Mannie to her birthplace in Tidewater, Virginia, Alan Bland composed "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny". Sitting on the banks of the James River, Mannie wrote the words down on paper while Jimmy played and sang to her.

Though "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" was the only song he wrote that became an official state song, he wrote many more memorable melodies in his lifetime; songs including "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers", "In the Evening by the Moonlight" and 700 others. For additional information about James Allen Bland visit the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the African-American Registry.

Adoption of the State Song Emeritus

Carry Me Back to Old Virginny
Two Plantation Melodies: Standard and Popular

The song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny", words and music by James Allen Bland, was adopted as the official state song of Virginia by the General Assembly with House Joint Resolution No. 10 in 1940.

Even as it was adopted, some expressed concern over the lyrics. In fact, the name of the song was changed from "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" to "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia", either at the time of adoption or perhaps in 1950 or 1966.

In 1970, Virginia Senator Douglas L. Wilder objected strongly to the song's lyrics with their romanticized view of slavery and worked to dethrone the song with little success. After being elected Governor of Virginia (1990-1994), he again initiated legislative efforts to retire the song.

In 1994, Senate Bill No. 231 was introduced, proposing to modify the words to the original song. Senate Bill No. 231 addressed words within the lyric considered to be offensive to some, but leaving most of the verses intact. Specifically, five words were addressed and changes suggested.

  • Dreamer's was offered as a replacement for darkey's.
  • My loved ones was offered as a replacement for old Massa.
  • Mamma was offered as a replacement for Massa.
  • Papa was suggested to replace Missis.

The modified song looked like this:

    Carry me back to old Virginia, 
    There's where the cotton and corn and 'tatoes grow, 
    There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime, 
    There's where this old darkey's dreamer's heart am long'd to go. 
    There's where I labor'd so hard for old Massa my loved ones, 
    Day after day in the field of yellow corn, 
    No place on earth do I love more sincerely, 
    Than old Virginia, the State where I was born. 

    CHORUS 
    Carry me back to old Virginia, 
    There's where the cotton and corn and 'tatoes grow, 
    There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime, 
    There's where this old darkey's dreamer's heart am long'd to go.

    Carry me back to old Virginia, 
    There let me live 'till I wither and decay, 
    Long by the old Dismal Swamp have I wander'd, 
    There's where this old darkey's dreamer's life will pass away, 
    Massa Mama and Missis Papa have long gone before me, 
    Soon will we meet on that bright and golden shore, 
    There we'll be happy and free from all sorrow, 
    There's where we'll meet and we'll never part no more. 

A later Senate amendment proposed to change the word am to has in the two places.

Also in 1994, House Joint Resolution, No. 179 was introduced, in the Virginia House of Delegates, requesting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "...to review the official state song and make recommendations for changes to its language, as certain lyrics are offensive to many citizens of the Commonwealth."

Both of these 1994 measures failed to win approval.

In 1996, both the Senate and the House introduced legislation replacing "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the state song with "Old Dominion," by Adele Abrahamse. These measures made no progress, however, after being referred to committee.

ALTTAG
1997 Senate Bill No. 801 as Introduced (Look closer)

In 1997, more legislation related to the Virginia state song was introduced, among them Senate Bill No. 801 sponsored by Senator Stephen D. Newman of Lynchburg.

On January 9, 1997 Senate Bill No. 801 was introduced proposing that "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" be declared the "state song emeritus."

This bill had the effect of maintaining the song as an historical document while retiring "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the official state song.

It was immediately referred to the Senate Committee on General Laws where a substitute bill was proposed to adopt a modified version of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the state song and, at the same time, adopt the original "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" as the state song emeritus. The substitute proposed:

The Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill No. 801 with one minor amendment, eliminating the effective date, on February 17, 1997.

The legislation designating Carry Me Back to Old Virginia as the state song emeritus was signed by Governor George Allen on March 20, 1997.

Code of Virginia

The following information is excerpted from the Code of Virginia, Title 7.1, Chapter 5, Section 7.1.37. The words and the sheet music are included within the statute.

    (Code 1950,  7-35; 1966, c. 102; 1997, c. 576.)


Source: Virginia General Assembly, (http://legis.state.va.us/), December 13, 2004
Source: Songwriter's Hall of Fame, (http://www.songwritershalloffame.org) December 13, 2004
Source: Lions of Virginia District 24-A, (http://www.pwcweb.com/d24alions/) December 13, 2004
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, Copyright 2002
Source: State Songs America, Edited by M.J. Bristow, Copyright 2000
Source: State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols by George Earlie Shankle, Ph.D., Copyright 1938




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