More than five hundred students from Southern historically black colleges and universities gathered Sunday in Huntsville. They paid tribute to former slaves and plantation workers through songs.

Several choirs gathered in Huntsville to pay tribute to their ancestors. (WAFF)

Those groups included Oakwood University, Alabama A&M University, Clark Atlanta University, Alabama State University, Miles College, Talladega College and Stillman College.

Oakwood’s Roy Malcolm coordinated the Festival of Spirituals. He said they’re not celebrating the pain and suffering, but symbolizing the freedom and liberty.

“When the slaves were depressed they had nothing to fall back on except their spirit to keep going, so they invented these songs that we call spirituals,” said Malcolm.

Dr. Richard Harrington, former mayor of Birmingham, organized the Festival of Spirituals in the 70’s, but when he became mayor, the musical faded away.

That’s when Oakwood University stepped in and kept the African American musical tradition and heritage alive.

“We’re trying to preserve them, that’s one of the purpose of this program to preserve the spirituals because we consider this a very special art form,” said Malcolm.

By the way, WAFF 48 News anchor Liz Hurly was the mistress of ceremonies for the event.