In his book, The Spirituals and the Blues, the theologian James Cone explores the meaning of heaven in black slave spirituals. He begins one chapter with these questions:
How was it possible for black slaves to take seriously their pain and suffering in an unfriendly world and still believe that God was liberating them from earthly bondage? How could they really believe that God was just when they knew only injustice, oppression, and death? What exactly was revealed in their encounter with God that made them know that their humanity was protected from the insanity of white masters and governmental officials? The answer to these questions lies in the concept of heaven, which is the dominant idea in black religious experience as expressed in the black spirituals.