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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘At The Purchaser’s Option’

Rhiannon Giddens collects songs. Traditional songs from the 1800s and early 1900s, like work songs, inspire her craft. Many of these songs are rooted in the history of African Americans in the United States.

On her most recent album, “Freedom Highway,” Giddens takes her passion for traditional music and weaves together narratives of struggle.

Several songs on the album could be featured in this space, but the opening track, “At The Purchaser’s Option,” is a defiant tune that bears similarity to the work songs black slaves were known to sing.

It was inspired by a 19th century slave advertisement once printed in a newspaper. “For sale, a remarkable smart healthy Negro wench, about 22 years of age; used to both house work and farming.”

The advertisement indicates she has a child that is 9 months old. The child will be taken from her and sold “at the purchaser’s option.”

In Giddens’ song, the 22 year-old woman grapples with the fact that her owner will sell her child. She recounts how she was trafficked by her owner. She also recalls how she works overtime and her “fingers bleed” to enrich her owner.

She is exploited and degraded, but no matter how she is mistreated and dehumanized, she has one solemn pledge. “You can take my body. You can take my bones. You can take my blood, but not my soul.”

It is a slow building song with a measured tempo that serves to amplify the woman’s resolve.

As Giddens described in an interview for Uncut magazine, “At the purchaser’s option” may be a phrase from an era of slavery that has passed. However, the song still applies to those in slavery currently.

“I sang the song at a gala for an organization that helps to free women who have been trafficked,” Giddens shared. “Modern slavery is huge, and there are still women who have no control over their bodies and their children.”

Listen to “At The Purchaser’s Option” by Rhiannon Giddens:


Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."