‘‘The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,’’ said Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Albany Movement. ‘‘They give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours’’ –Robert Shelton, ‘‘Songs a Weapon in Rights Battle,’’ New York Times, 20 August 1962.
Is it me or did anyone else miss the music that helped define the Civil Rights Movement and Anti-War Movement of the 60s? Where was the music at yesterday’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington? Where was Paul Stookey, Peter Yarrow, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bernice Reagon? Were they invited??? I could understand if they weren’t able to make it due to scheduling conflicts, illness, etc, but were they invited to begin with??? I don’t know, I only know there was a deafening vacuum of NO music. Where was We Shall Overcome, I Shall Not Be Moved, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round, This Little Light o’ Mine, Oh Freedom, Which Side Are You On?, If I Had a Hammer, Woke Up This Morning With My Mind On Freedom? Those songs rallied both movements; inspired courage; provided context; gave hope; united people from every walk of life! Where was the diversity yesterday? There are plenty of Caucasians that still believe we’ve a long way to go in Civil Rights, Housing Equality, Educational Excellence for All Students, Informational Technology Equality and Access, Nutritional Food Oases in Every Community, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs and other major issues. Honestly? I think the march could’ve been better organized to galvanize people to truly MARCH ON Washington TOGETHER…how? Well, one sure fire way would’ve been to invite young singer/songwriters that are out there carrying on the tradition passed onto them by people like Bernice Johnson Reagon and Sweet Honey in the Rock and Dylan, Nina Simone, Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary (May she rest in peace), Pete Seeger…They’re out there, they’re not invisible and having those socially conscience performers of all races would’ve brought more people and a more diverse crowd to Washington.
FREEDOM sang 50 years ago!
The role of music in the Civil Rights Movement cannot be understated. I used all of those songs for 33 years in the classroom…Imagine my students from all over the world singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” in the hallways, walking up/down the stairs, on the auditorium stage…These songs are still relevant and to not have them center stage at a march commemorating 50 years of struggle where music played such an essential role, was just plain wrong. Well, I still cling to “This Little Light O’ Mine” and feel inspired everyday through song. Just sayin…