A good place to start looking for the meaning behind gospel songs is the website SongFacts.com. A search for the well-known gospel song “Amazing Grace” tells the reader about the author, John Newton. Having survived a horrible storm while working on a slave ship, Newton became very religious, but soon went back to his old sinful ways. After reaffirming his faith, Newton wrote this song about how wonderful God was to save a "wretch" like him.
"The Gospel Truth About Negro Spirituals," a lecture by Randye Jones, states that many gospel songs were taken from stories in the Bible that slaves and their descendants related to. "Go Down, Moses," the story of Moses and the exodus of his people who longed to be free, linked the original story to black slavery. "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" would have spoken to the slaves' beliefs that in spite of their suffering, God hadn't abandoned them.
NegroSpirituals.com states that the Christian songs sung by slaves often had hidden meanings. The word "home" could mean a place to be free, unbound by slavery, or it could mean heaven. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" refers to the Underground Railroad, an organization that helped slaves to flee to the North. The "river Jordan" in the song is actually the Ohio River, which the slaves needed help to cross.