The Gospel Train

Title: The Gospel Train

Artist: Ruth Starr Rose

Date: 1939

Size: 14″ x 19″

Medium: Print

Technique: Color Lithograph

Credit: Gift of the Harmon Foundation

Description: This is a nighttime scene with a church just to the right of center. The church has three colorful (stained glass) windows, a steeple, and an open door with a person at the door. The lights from the church are spilling out into the surrounding area. To the left of the church is a house in the background along with a cart, with a standing man inside, pulled by two donkeys or horses. One of the donkeys/horses is mid-sitting while the other looks as though it is kicking the man in the cart. Near the bottom of the image, in the foreground with the church in the background, is a line of eleven people. There are eight adults, both men and women, in various outfits (either black or red), and three children. The adult leading the front of the line has a cane and is outstretching their hand to the main focus of the image: a large train that is taking off into the sky. The train contains two cars with people in the windows and an angel over the first car, an engine that is completely in the air (the second car still has wheels on the ground) and an angel with a trumpet guiding the engine into the sky.

Beyond the Image

Ruth Star Rose’s The Gospel Train is based on a traditional African American spiritual called “The Gospel Train (Get On Board)” (alternatively, “De Gospel Train”).  The song tells of a train that is traveling through the land picking up people on the way to Heaven. It warns sinners that they don’t want to miss this opportunity to get on the train, otherwise they’ll be left behind. 


One version of the first verse, including the chorus, sung by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, goes:


“The gospel train is coming
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheels moving
And rumbling thro’ the land
Get on board, children
Get on board, children
Get on board, children
For there’s room for many a more”


There are several different versions of the song, with changes to the lyrics, though the overall story remains the same.

"Songs of the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University", 1881. (Library of Congress, Music Division)
  • "De Gospel Train am Comin'" by Harry C. Brown and the Knickerbocker Quartette, 1917, Internet Archive.  00:00

References & further reading

Brown, Harry C., and Knickerbocker Quartette. “De Gospel Train am Comin’.” Internet Archive, 1917.

“Songs of the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University.” Library of Congress, Music Division. John Church & Co., 1881.

Requesting Images

For questions regarding high-resolution digital images, please contact our director, Dr. Vanessa Thaxton-Ward. For more information on image use, please see our FAQ under “Can I request an image?”