Singing Civil Rights Movement Freedom Songs

Hello, everyone, and
thank you for joining us for today’s webinar on civil
rights movement freedom songs. My name is Sarah Speltz, and I’m
an associate director in the BU Alumni Relations Office. Today’s webinar is sponsored
by the Boston University Alumni Association and is offered as
part of our Alumni Education Program. Many of our educational
programs are held on campus, but we offer
educational webinars because we want to connect with
our alumni around the globe. And we do have alumni
joining us today from China, France, and
Great Britain, as well as many places in the US,
including Washington, Indiana, Kansas, Florida,
Illinois, and Georgia, and of course, New England. Before I introduce
today’s speaker, a few housekeeping notes. This webinar is being hosted
in our Zoom online meeting platform. If you experience any
trouble with the audio or visual portions
of the presentation, please contact Zoom
support, and I’m going to give you the phone
number right now if you’d like to write it down. It’s 1-888-799-9666. Today’s presentation
is being recorded, and will soon be available
for On Demand viewing on our website, BU.EDU/alumni. Our speaker today is eager
to answer your questions, and you are welcome
to submit them anytime through the Q&A box
at the bottom of your screen. So if you just hover
over the Q&A icon, you’ll see you can click on
that and answer your questions. So we’ll get to
those at the end, but you can submit them anytime. Now, it is my pleasure
to introduce our speaker for the day. Presenting today, from
the BU campus in Boston, is Dr. Cheryl Boots. She is a triple Terrier
with degrees from BU. She is also senior
lecturer in the humanities in BU’s College
of General Studies where she teaches
advanced courses in American history and
American literature, and maintains close contact with
the BU American and New England Studies Program. Her research interests
include 19th century American literature,
art, religion, and music in historical context, sacred
music in the secular world, songwriting and performance,
community development through singing, and the
Southern Freedom Movement in the US. She’s actually working
on a book right now, so today’s presentation
is a bit of a sneak peek. Cheryl, thank you so much
again for being with us today. The floor is yours. Thank you, Sarah. Thanks to you and
Dan for all your help to make this possible today. Let’s start with some music. I want to begin with
contemporary singer/songwriter Reggie Harris, who is
singing the freedom movement song, Been Down Into The South. (SINGING) Well I’ve
never been to heaven, but I think I’m right,
been down into the South. Folks up there both
black and white, been down into the South. Hallelujah, freedom. Hallelujah freedom,
hallelujah freedom, been down into the South. Well, I’ve never
been to heaven, but I think I’m right, been
down into the South. I don’t want to go without
my civil rights, been down into the South. And we sing, hallelujah
freedom, hallelujah freedom, hallelujah freedom, been
down into the South. Just a little sample
of some more music that we’re going to hear today. For those of you who have
been down into the South, those of you who plan to go down
in the South, those of you who are already in the
South, welcome. This afternoon we’ll spend
some time hearing some stories and songs of the southern
freedom movement in three Alabama cities– Montgomery,
Birmingham, and Selma. For about 40
minutes or so I will share with you how music and
singing together developed and maintain a
sense of community during the southern
freedom movement. One time I’m talking, and I
will be doing a little singing, we’ll have time for Q&A, at
Sarah has already explained. And feel free whenever there’s
music playing to sing along. Dr. Earl Fluker, who will
lead the BU tour next month, might well expand upon
today’s central theme, which is community. Community forms the bedrock
of his work and of mine. Martin Luther King,
Jr.’s activism focused on what he called
“the beloved community.” He explained in his book, Stride
Toward Freedom, that love, or agape, and I’m quoting
here, “is the only cement that can hold this broken
community together.” “When I am commanded
to love,” he wrote, “I am commanded to restore
community, to resist injustice, and to meet the needs
of my brothers.” This community is Dr.
King’s beloved community. You may have already picked
up on some of my terminology. I use the term “southern
freedom movement” to emphasize not only equal
voting rights but also equal access to
public facilities and fair employment
in the South. Think of the southern
freedom movement as a subset of the overall
civil rights movement, and you’ll certainly hear both
of these terms used today. You’ll also hear acronyms. SNCC, S-N-C-C– it’s the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the national
freedom movement organizations at the time. Also, the SCLC, Southern
Christian Leadership Council, and the oldest of
them all, the NAACP, the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People. Before I talk more about singing
in the southern movement, let’s take a quick look
at the opening song, sung by Reggie Harris, and
you’ve got the text up here on the screen. And Down Into The
South was actually adapted from a gospel
song entitled, Been Down Into the Sea. In 1961, SNCC field
secretary, Bob Zellner, was riding in a car
with other SNCC members, driving from Baton Rouge,
Louisiana to the SNCC headquarters is in Atlanta– quite a trek. Bob made up new lyrics, taught
them to the others in the car, and they chimed in
with their own verses. Later, Bob brought this
song to the students in Talladega, Alabama, who were
working with him to desegregate public facilities. The Talladega movement embraced
this song as their own. They sang it often, and as
is typical for freedom songs, people from other areas
heard it, sang it, and added their own verses. And from the there, the song
took on a life of its own. Speaking a community,
notice how the words in the first verse and
the last verse emphasize the interracial community,
both black and white, that exist in
heaven and on earth. The two other verses
also show the hard work of desegregation– walking picket lines, soliciting
participation door-to-door, and even going to jail. Freedom songs expressed
a grassroots history of the movement, and that
was one of its functions. Many people agree that
the civil rights movement was the greatest
singing movement this country has experienced. I’ve been intrigued by
what actually happens when people sang freedom
songs, and how that work helped desegregate large
parts of America in the 1950s and the 1960s. The phrase “cultural work”
refers to the way music expressed values and attitudes
of the people who sang and who wrote the
songs, and also how the songs enabled
an oppressed people to envision and also live out
an alternative social reality, in this case, a
desegregated society. Today we’ll look at four
ways that freedom songs did this culture work, and
there’s certainly more. Excuse me. First, singing freedom
songs affirmed the humanity of African-Americans. In Montgomery in
1955, bus drivers, called African-American riders– and I’m quoting here– “black apes,” and
quote, “black cows.” This was reported by
riders on the buses. In the South and North, many
whites thought people of color were animals, as this indicates,
or perhaps even lesser human beings. Freedom songs, however,
confirmed African-Americans are fully human beings. Second, freedom
songs established equality of people of all
races through their lyrics and through the act of singing. The lyrics of Been
Down Into the South, for example, as we’ve seen,
refer to blacks and whites as equals together. Human equality
supports the legitimacy of integration in all
facets of American life, and recognition of
African-Americans as American citizens
with all the rights that are due to American citizens. Third, singing freedom
songs expressed emotions common among all human beings. Some songs were funny,
some helped pass the time, especially while
sitting in a jail cell or on a long car ride, say,
from Baton Rouge to Atlanta. Or songs helped protesters
face violent conditions on the streets with individual
and collective courage. The song, Ain’t Gonna Let
Nobody Turn Me Around, is one example of resilience
and determination in a song. Freedom songs also
provided an outlet for other powerful
feelings including fear, anger, loneliness,
and especially, according to Howard Thurman,
freedom songs, songs of the slaves now into the
20th century, expressed hope. Fourth, singing freedom
songs created a community that crossed lines of race,
age, religion, ethnicity, gender, and even region. When people sang together
they experienced what I call “egalitarian resonance.” Everyone contributed
to the music, whether they were talented
soloists or Johnny One-Notes, everybody sang. Producing music, and also
listening to music receptively, positively, or
responsively, creates that temporary collective
connection and emotional high. Egalitarian, through music,
became a temporary model for a longer-lasting and
larger community, the vision that Dr. Martin Luther King
had for a beloved community. As we look at what happened
in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, we’ll see
how these cultural work functions play out in the
music and in the act of singing together. The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Montgomery is the state capital. It sometimes has been called
the cradle of the Confederacy. The first Confederate
flag flew over the first Confederate
government here in 1861. On December 5, 1955, the
Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Organizers hoped that they
could stage a successful one day protest. In fact, Dr. King
told his wife Coretta, if they get 60% of the
people to stay off the buses, he would feel very satisfied. The first day was so
wildly successful, with over 90% people
staying off of the bus, that the bus boycott
continued for more than a year, as you can see,
until December 20, 1956. And during that time
they called for changes, including integrated seating
and employment of black bus drivers. Singing in the
Montgomery movement. Because we now know that
the Montgomery movement was successful, we might be
tempted to assume that winning was a foregone conclusion. It was not. Many things arose
during that year plus that threatened to make
it not be successful. But the question is, what
had changed in 1955 to make the bus boycott successful? We can’t investigate all of
the contributing factors, but we can affirm that
there were multiple factors. Nevertheless, let’s
look at a few. First of all, Brown v. Board
of Education decision in 1954 meant that education was
supposed to be desegregated. Why not transportation? And in fact, there were
other transportation acts that pointed toward
desegregating transportation. A mass meeting with singing
led by charismatic leaders was certainly part of it. But before that, you have to see
that there was an established network of NAACP activists. Rosa Parks may have
rather spontaneously decided not to change
her seat, but she was no neophyte to the struggle. She had been a secretary
of the Montgomery NAACP. She hosted the NAACP youth
meetings in her home. She had been to the
Highlander Center, which was a training center
and a community organizing of location. So with the foundation
built by the NAACP, Rosa Parks took the step
to stay in her seat. The Montgomery
Improvement Association, that was developed to
carry on the bus boycott, took direct action, and
that was different from what the NAACP tended to do. The MIA was led by this
charismatic young fellow, a preacher that just graduated
from Boston University. Who might that have been? Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. And so that was a
significant part of the Montgomery bus movement. The format of
these mass meetings followed a process quite similar
to African-American religious services, with group
singing and praying, individuals giving testimonies,
and inspirational leaders preaching. Mass meetings formed the
backbone of direct action in other Southern
movement cities as well as in Montgomery. And finally fundraising
efforts and events. With nearly 17,500
African-American bus riders in Montgomery– let me
repeat that number– 17,500 bus riders who
needed transportation, movement leaders had
to come up with income to cover the expenses
of volunteer drivers. Movement supporters held
Sunday afternoon teas with entertainment,
and that’s where we see three characters that
are important to our story. Three girls– Jamila
Jones, Gladys Carter, and Minnie Hendricks– attended elementary
school together in 1955. They liked to sing spirituals,
and so for the Friday afternoon talent shows at school,
they performed together. Once the bus boycott began,
the girls, as they were known, sang at the Sunday
fundraiser teas also. Jamila said, looking
back, “We were carrying the message of the
movement through our songs.” They later had to
come up with a name, and decided that they would be
known as the Montgomery Gospel Trio. Guy Carawan, who was the music
director at the Highlander Center, had heard the
Montgomery girls sing. He invited them to perform at
a fundraiser held in Carnegie Hall in New York City. There, they recorded
songs for an LP album along with the Nashville
Quartet and Guy Carawan, and one of these songs was
This Little Light of Mine. Let’s listen to them. Well, I hope we’ll
listen to them. There we go. You have to get the
little signal in there. I’m so glad we rehearsed. There we go. Got it– This Little
Light of Mine. (SINGING) Oh, this
little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Oh, this little light of
mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Oh, this little light of
mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it
shine, let it shine. Oh, deep down in the South,
I’m gonna let it shine. Oh, deep down in the South,
I’m gonna let it shine. Oh, deep down in the South,
I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it
shine, let it shine. Oh, we have a lot of freedom,
we’re gonna let it shine. Oh, we have a lot of freedom,
we’re gonna let it shine. Oh, we have a lot of freedom,
we’re gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it
shine, let it shine. Just a little sample. If you listened to
the Spotify list, you heard the whole thing. What cultural work
does this song do? In terms of common
humanity and equality, we can think of it in
terms that John Lovell, Jr.– who’s a scholar– looks at it. This is one of many
slave songs that affirm the intelligence
of African-Americans in a time when their
intelligence was not considered valid. Some interpreters read the
light as the human spirit or the divinity
with each person. This version of This
Little Light of Mine, names the light as
the light of freedom, a universal desire
of all people. Even the words, “God
gave it to us,”– if you look over in the second column– even those words
indicate there’s a sense of humanity and
equality for everyone. “God gave it to us.” In terms of emotion, I
don’t know about you, but there’s an upbeat
rhythm that we’ve got going there that gives this
song an optimistic quality. Plus, repetition
gives the singers a sense of determination,
which makes this song motivational and inspirational. Thinking about
community, this song is really unique in the way
that it is both universal and very individual. By 1963, when SNCC published
this song in their songbook, more verses further demonstrated
the song’s versatility. “All in the jailhouse,
we’re gonna let it shine, everywhere I go, I’m
gonna let it shine.” When movement activists
sang the same songs, they created a community
with each other through a common
musical language. That community extended
across space and time. Eight years after the Montgomery
boycott, southern freedom movement participants
in Birmingham, Alabama sang, (SINGING)
down in Birmingham, we’re gonna let it shine. They sang other
freedom songs too, and they elevated gospel
songs, gospel music, whose central place in
that city’s movement. Let’s move on to Birmingham. Compared to
Montgomery and Selma, with their longstanding
traditions from plantation life and slavery, Birmingham was
actually kind of a new city. It was incorporated in 1871. It’s mining, iron,
and steel production inspired one of its nicknames,
“the Pittsburgh of the South.” A more ominous
nickname, “Bombingham,” came from segregationists,
who frequently dynamited buildings and also maimed and
killed freedom movement people. Like many other cities in
Alabama and across the South, Birmingham’s freedom
movement was a local campaign with national implications. The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth,
wiry in stature and fiery in rhetoric, strode into
Birmingham and its urban scene in 1955. Reverend Shuttlesworth organized
the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, the ACMHR,
and under his presidency, the ACMHR affiliated with the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He survived a bomb that
destroyed his home. Because the bomb left
him without a scratch, he was even more determined
to lead the freedom movement in Birmingham. Birmingham as a town,
interestingly enough, had a very thriving
gospel music culture. Not only big
churches and schools had gospel music choirs– you might expect that– but mills, and mines, and
other places of business had their own gospel choirs too. Now, let me explain. Gospel music, compared
to its forerunner, the African-American spiritual,
has a much more modern sound. It has sort of
bluesy intonations, rhythmic arrangements, fluid
electric organ accompaniment, vibrant percussion, and lively
interactions between soloists, excuse me, soloists
and the choir. Many gospel musicians
who performed nationally and internationally originated
in Birmingham, Alabama. You’ll also hear in a minute how
gospel music influenced rhythm and blues as well as Motown. I think you’ll be able
to pick up on that. Reverend Shuttlesworth
formed the ACMHR Gospel Choir in July of 1960. It seems only right
that a movement would have a gospel choir. By 1963, he and Dr. King asked
18-year-old college student and student activist, Carlton
Reece, to take the helm. Because of Birmingham’s
rich gospel tradition, they wanted the gospel
choir to be a dynamic force at those mass meetings. Carlton was already
a movement veteran. He had sat in at lunch counters. He had led his fellow high
school students on a march. He’d been arrested. He was even bitten by a police
dog in Kelly Ingram Park. If that is not a credential,
I don’t know what is. So he knew the movement, and
he knew the power of music. Looking back, Carlton said,
“Everybody loves music. When a person is
sad, he wants to find a song that makes him glad. When he gets weary, he finds a
song that makes him cheer up. When you’re riding along in your
car and you flip on that radio and hear a song that
relates to your feelings, or to some kind of
story or experience that you’ve encountered, it
brings joy to your soul.” For the movement, Carlton
wrote original songs and adapted other songs
for the choir to sing. He even did it sometimes on
the spot during a mass meeting. He explained, “As Dr. King,
or Reverend Shuttlesworth, and the other activists
talked, I thought of lyrics and put the tune to them. It becomes very easy to
write when you are actually involved in a situation where
there is a need for it.” The ACMHR Gospel Choir, also
called the Birmingham Movement Choir, swelled from its 23
founding members to 60 voices during the height of
the movement in 1963. At one point, the choir sang
for 40 consecutive nights at mass meetings. Because gospel music was an
established part of Birmingham culture, it assumed particular
importance to the movement there. And that brings us to
99 and 1/2 Won’t Do. One of the favorite songs
of Birmingham Movement Choir was 99 and 1/2 Won’t Do. It was a modern
gospel song written by Birmingham’s own gospel
legend, Dorothy Love Coates. Carlton Reece adapted it
for the freedom movement and arranged it for the
choir and his own organ accompaniment. The words you can see
here on the screen come from a transcription
of Carlton’s arrangement, but we’re going to hear a
different version by Reverend F.C. Barnes. I want you to notice the
interplay between Reverend Barnes and the choir, and also
the other aspects of gospel music that I talked
about, and then you will hear the
gospel music sound. [MUSIC PLAYING] (SINGING) Lord, I’m running. Lord, I’m running. Trying to make 100. Trying to make 100. 99 and 1/2, it
won’t do, won’t do. Lord, I’m running. Lord, I’m running. Trying to make 100. Trying to make 100. 99 and 1/2 won’t do, won’t do. Lord, I’m running. Lord, I’m running. Trying to 100. Trying to make 100. 99 and 1/2, it
won’t do, won’t do. Lord, I’m running. Lord, I’m running. Trying to make 100. Trying to make 100. 99 and 1/2 won’t do, won’t do. Count up the calls. 9, 10, 15, 20. You got to run on. 25, 30. A little bit longer. 35, 40. Got to keep running. 45, 50. Keep on running, you all,
if you want to make 100. 65, 70. Just keep on running. 75, 80. You got to run everyday. 85, 90, 95. If you want to make 100, now. 95, 96, 97, 98. 99 and 1/2 won’t do. 99 and 1/2 Won’t Do. The primary cultural work
that I see in this gospel song comes from its
ability to inspire. In a city where many
residents hesitated to get involved in
the movement, because of the very real risks to
their jobs, to their homes, and to their lives,
this song encouraged the concerted city-wide
effort for desegregation, and it reminded everybody
involved that they had to keep going all the way. Emotionally, this music
created a jubilant spirit at the mass meeting,
energizing everyone there. The push of the rising numbers– 97, 98, 99– remain
singers and listeners that persistence
leads to success. As a community devoted to gospel
music and singing together, they were joined in
these mass meetings and out on the streets in
their fight to the end. Through the spring of 1963,
during the Birmingham movement, network TV– news coverage of attack
dogs and fire hoses blasting peaceful
protesters in Birmingham– drew national outrage
and a concerted effort to pass civil
rights legislation. By that August, attention
shifted to the peaceful March on Washington For
Jobs and Freedom. Many Americans hoped that
the violence was over, but a short 18 days after
the March on Washington, all eyes returned to Birmingham,
where a Sunday morning bomb blast in the 16th
Street Baptist Church killed four little girls. Two boys would be killed later
that day in related incidents. Those children
and their families deeply experienced
profound tragedy when racial violence
was directed against innocent lives. The seismic affect
of Birmingham would reach across miles to
Selma and across time to 1965, when the SCLC arrived
to augment the work that SNCC freedom fighters had been doing
for the previous two years. High on a bluff above
the Alabama River, Selma stands 50 miles west of
Montgomery, 90 miles southwest of Birmingham. A thriving shipping center,
when cotton was king, Selma added banking and
business to its economy in the 20th century. 8-year-old Sheyann Webb felt
drawn to the Selma movement. She had heard Dr. King
speak about freedom. She knew about the
girls her age who had died in Birmingham
two years before. Without her parents’
knowledge initially, she skipped school and attended
the organizational meetings in Brown Chapel. She sat in the back row and
just watched what was going on. A high school boy saw her,
and he brought her up front and introduced her to SCLC
staff member, Jose Williams, who asked if she could sing. “I told him I could,”
Sheyann explained. So we been practicing
some of the freedom songs. Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn
Me Around, Oh, Freedom, This Little Light of Mine– I knew them all. So it was decided. I would be singing at
some of the mass rallies. Sheyann told her best friend,
9-year-old Rachel West, all about the
meetings, and that she would be singing in the front
of the crowd at Brown Chapel. On Sunday, January 17, both
girls put on their best dresses, tied ribbons
in their hair, and they sat together
in the front row. Before long, Reverend Reece
announced that Sheyann would lead them in a song. She remembers it this way. “I sang and the
people all joined in. After a few stanzas of Ain’t
Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around, I noticed Rachel was up there
with me beaming and singing your heart out. We would do a lot of singing
together in the coming weeks.” In fact, they would. And in March, they would face
the anger of Sheriff Jim Clark, a determined segregationist
who led his posse men against protesters. Most of us remember those images
from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Now, let’s take a look
at this freedom song that Sheyann and Rachel led. Reverend Ralph
Abernathy introduced Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn
Me Around at a mass meeting actually during the Albany,
Georgia movement in 1962. The song became
popular throughout the southern movement. Once again, a CBS camera crew
filmed a national documentary that showed students
clapping and singing this song as the police carried
them off the paddy wagons. One vocal arrangement
sounds like this. (SINGING) Ain’t gonna let nobody
turn me round, turn me round, turn me round. Ain’t gonna let
nobody turn me round. I’m gonna keep on a
walking, keep on a talking, marching up to freedom land. Ain’t gonna let George Wallace
turn me round, turn me round, turn me round. Ain’t gonna let George
Wallace turn me round, I’m gonna keep on walking,
keep on a talking, marching up to freedom land. Like other freedom
songs, this one could easily be adapted
in Albany, Georgia. They would sing, “ain’t
gonna let Mayor Kelly turn me around,” while in Selma, they
sang about Alabama Governor George Wallace. Plus, there were
universally applied verses, and can see those over on the
right-hand side of the screen. “Ain’t gonna let no jailhouse,”
“ain’t gonna let segregation,” “ain’t gonna let persecution,”
“no police dogs,” “no fire hoses”– you get the idea. In her memoir, Sheyann
expresses her understanding of what we are calling the
cultural work of freedom songs. She was looking back
and she explained, “Those songs carried a message. Freedom songs called out for
justice right now, not later. It’s part of our
determination, our dignity. Some songs told of
the ultimate sacrifice we were prepared to make
to achieve a dream.” And here Sheyann quotes the
song, Oh, Freedom. (SINGING) “And before I’ll be a slave,
I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my
Lord and be free.” This song, Ain’t Gonna
Let Nobody Turn Me Around, Oh, Freedom, both of them
show hope, determination, and the humanity of
African-Americans. Sheyann’s friend, Rachel,
also made an observation that seems especially
relevant today. She said, “There’s a kinship
between all us black folks, a bond that tied the
Montgomery Bus Boycott people to the Birmingham
people, and finally, to us here in Selma.” Today, we have seen and heard
that singing freedom songs together helped create
the communal bond that Rachel, and Sheyann,
and so many others experienced during the southern
freedom movement, which brings us to the bottom line. Freedom fighters in Montgomery,
Birmingham, and Selma all sang, as did freedom
fighters throughout the South. They sang many songs in common,
although different cities had their own favorites
and their own styles. Over time, the freedom
song repertoire expanded to include not only
spirituals, hymns, and revived spirituals, but also gospel
songs, as we’ve heard, popular songs, advertising
jingles, parodies, blues, and rock and roll songs. Without question,
activists held We Shall Overcome in it’s own place
of honor and even sacredness. How did singing freedom
songs help the movement? Singing freedom songs
together affirmed the humanity of African-Americans who were
treated as less than human. Singing freedom songs
together established equality among all people,
regardless of skin color. Singing freedom songs together
expressed emotions, from joy, to anguish, from frustration,
but most importantly, the hope. Most important for my thinking
is that singing freedom songs together created egalitarian
resonance, a brief sense of community that modeled the
beloved community, Dr. King’s ultimate goal. And at this point, I think
we can pause and take some questions. I do have a slide that
has some things to read, if you’re interested,
and also some things to look for online to hear
more about the freedom movement songs. Sarah, do we have
some questions? We’re going to give people
a couple of seconds to type the in. First of all, I want to
say thank you, and also thank you for singing. You’re welcome. That was great– wonderful. So everybody who
is listening in, the Q&A box is down at
the bottom of your screen. So if you just click there, then
you can type your questions in, and I will read them
out loud for everyone so that everyone can
hear the question, and then Dr. Boots
can answer it. So please go ahead and do that. And please do type
your questions in, because we don’t have
the audio enabled. I see a couple of people
are raising their hand, but please use the
Q&A box, if you can. Cheryl, one question. You mentioned just
recently– just at the end of the presentation– that Sheyann Webb
was eight years old when she got involved. That seems very young. Yes, it was very young. Was that typical of
the movement that you had such young participants? There were young people
involved all the way along. Birmingham is sort of
noted for the conscious use of grade school kids
and high school kids. But as you can see, it
happens in Selma as well. Sheyann was eight. Rachel was nine. They were the
exception, but there was a point where there
was a young people’s march that they were involved in. They were also involved in the
adult marches at times as well. And it’s interesting,
because there’s a historian, John
Lovell, Jr., who talks about how young slaves
were in the 19th century, and particularly
the young slaves were the ones that often
were escaping North. And it seems to me that
we see that continue in the 20th century with the
young people who got involved. SNCC was college age people
or shortly thereafter– the high school students,
and the kids in Birmingham, and also in Selma–
so it seems to be sort of a historical trend. Thank you. So Reggie has a question. Were the songs part of
the community action slash civil disobedience
plans that protesters developed or would they
just spur those things? Well, they were
very much planned. They would gather before
going out on an action, let’s say a march that
was going to the place to register to vote. And people would
start singing there. And they knew the songs,
and so they would sing them as they walked out the door and
while they were on the street. There were many times that
people in the movement were protesting that they
couldn’t use lunch counters or that they couldn’t go
into department stores and try on clothes,
and so that there would be picketing going
around in front of the store, and they often were
singing at that point too. John Lewis talks about
those kinds of events, and he said it was boring
when there wasn’t any action. You were just
walking and walking, and you wanted to do
something, so spontaneously you would sing. And certainly at the
Selma to Montgomery march, according to Pete
Seeger and Len Chandler, there were songs that
people knew that they sang. And Len Chandler, who was a
singer/songwriter even made up songs that they sang
as they were marching from Selma to Montgomery. We actually have
a couple of people asking the same question. Is there a difference in how
current marchers and protesters use songs? Yeah, I think they
aren’t singing as much. We seem to be in a
situation where people are more inclined
to do chanting, and I have sort of mixed
feelings about that. I did publish an essay about
chanting in Charlottesville, and that I felt like
music really had a power that chanting does not. And in Charlottesville,
case in point. There were protesters
there who were counter-protesters to the
Unite the Right protesters who were chanting Nazi slogans
and anti-Semitic chants. And there were a bunch of
protesters, who probably were my age or a
little bit older, who had known the freedom
movement, and they started seeing This
Little Light of Mine. And they actually were able to
quiet the chants of the Unite the Right people who
were just yelling. And chanting during the
freedom movement in the 1960s– “What do we want? Freedom. When do we want it? Now.” And we hear that chant today,
but it was augmented by song. And I don’t hear as
much of that singing, but I hear scattered
reports that there’s some music that happens. We have a question
here about Dr. King. Is there any song specifically
associated with the events that Dr. King attended? Well, he had his favorites. In fact, the night that
he was assassinated they were planning to have a mass
meeting, and he had asked for– and I think it was
Precious Lord to be sung. It was one of his favorites. I’m sure somebody is
going to correct me if I’m misremembering
that, but he certainly did have his favorites. And he wrote often
about We Shall Overcome. He talked about that. Luis asks, “The song Love
Train achieved prominence in the area you are describing. Did you find connection with
that song to the movement?” Well, I have Luis, but if
you’ve got something on that, let me know. I love it. I have tracked this. I said advertising
jingles that were sung in Parchman
Prison in Mississippi during the Freedom Rides
that happened in 1960, ’61, which was really
fun finding those. And I found many instances
where people used popular music to sing together. But I don’t know the story of– what is it, Freedom Train? Love Train. Love Train. I’m sure there are many stories. I just don’t happen
to know them. So send them on. Oh, is there any
freedom song collection that you particularly recommend? In terms of recording? I think, so. Yes. I’ve listed on this
slide here, Sing For Freedom: The Story of
the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs. But I would also direct you
to Reggie Harris’s page, He also performs
with Kim Harris, and together they have done a
CD almost entirely of freedom songs. And so I would say those two
would be great places to start. And then Dan is asking, “Was
there any comprehensive effort made to record the voices of the
original authors and singers? Have oral histories been
compiled where we can explore these songs all in one place?” So a similar question. There are a lot of oral
histories, many of them at various universities
throughout the South– so Mississippi, Georgia, North
Carolina, those universities. You can just go online and
you can find oral histories. I’ve included on the
slide here, which has invited
people to send into them their stories, pictures,
other kinds of documents. That’s where I have gone to when
I was using the SNCC freedom song songbook. There’s a photocopy of that,
excuse me, at the site. So we have another
question that’s related to current events here. In Aretha Franklin’s
funeral, they mentioned that she
would specifically be asked to attend
marches so she could use her voice in singing the songs. In the movie Selma,
Mahalia Jackson, I believe, would inspire MLK. And then this is Reggie again. Thanks, Reggie. “I believe Harry Belafonte
did the same in marches. Are there other examples
of popular singers who would add their
voices to the movement?” Oh, there are lots of them. And I’m so glad you
mentioned Harry Belafonte, because he was critical to the
movement in many, many ways. He became a very close
advisor of Dr. King. Dr. King would stay with
Harry Belafonte and his wife in New York City when he just
sort of needed to get away, but couldn’t go very far away. Or if he needed to be in the
city, he would stay with them. Harry Belafonte brought
planeloads of people all throughout the movement. If you look at
footage of the March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom, you’ll see all these Hollywood
personalities and Harry Belafonte, because he
brought them there, and he also would bring New
York people down as well. So he was really
crucial to the movement, and people adapted his songs
to be freedom movement songs. So one of them became
Freedom. (SINGING) Freedom, freedom, freedom
coming and it won’t be long. That’s a Harry Belafonte song. So there were many. Sam Cooke was another singer
who was a popular singer. He very much came out of
that gospel music tradition. And A Change Is Gonna Come
was a song that is really kind of haunting in
terms of his ability to produce it very quickly,
and it’s a very stirring song. Mary asks, “What
role, if any, did the song, Lift Every
Voice and Sing, have in the freedom movement?” Lift Every Voice
and Sing is commonly called the anthem,
African-American anthem or freedom song. It certainly was part of the
mix, but it tended to be, from my experience, more
commonly sung in churches. I haven’t found a whole
lot of documentation of it being sung
out on the sidewalks or in the places where
people were trying to desegregate facilities. It’s a great question. It is sung, and it’s
certainly very meaningful. I think it probably was more
located within the church environment. These are great questions,
and since you just sang a little bit for us to
again, how about this one. Can you tell us a little more
about your upcoming book? And since you are
also a gifted singer, will you be recording
a soundtrack to accompany the text? I think that’s the person
that I paid 10 bucks to– so thank you. The check is in the mail. I’ll get the name and
the address from Sarah. It’ll be fine. Tentatively, it’s titled
When the Spirit Says Sing, and it’s about 10
years, from 1955 to 1965 in the southern
freedom movement. So I don’t look at what’s
going on up North, even though by the end
of that time frame, there are things, very important
things, happening in the North. But I stay focused in the
South, partly because I think it’s just a
very rich environment, and musically, it
was just so lush. I do not plan at this
point to make a CD, but when I have a publisher, if
my publisher wants me to sing, I would be more than
happy to do that. That’s great. We still have a couple
minutes, if there are any other questions. Cheryl, I know for
this presentation we were somewhat
limited on time, and also you focused your
talk on the locations that BU alumni will
have the opportunity to visit in October. So you talked about Birmingham,
Selma, and Montgomery. Are there other
places, other towns, other cities that were very
important to these songs? Oh, yeah, and I will start
with Montgomery– well, actually I start a little bit
with a very seminal experience for the four people. And when I talk about
what made 1955 different, the murder of
Emmett Till in 1955 was a watershed experience. And his mother’s decision
to publish those photographs and to have an open
casket was so profound that it affects the people who
are involved in the movement. Rosa Parks in one
interview said she was thinking of Emmett Till
when she stayed in her seat. Joyce Ladner and others
talk about the fact that they were the
Emmett Till generation. And if you think
about it, in 1955 they were about Emmett’s age. And so by 1960, when we
have the first sit– well, it’s not the first sit-ins. But the movement of
sit-ins starts in 1960 with the North Carolina
sit-ins that then spread. These were the generation
of Emmett Till. So I start with Emmett
Till in the introduction and then move to the
Montgomery story. I also have stories and songs
from the Freedom Riders, from Parchman Jail, from– I really hadn’t thought
about it previously, but St. Augustine was
an important movement and there was a lot of
singing that happened then. I look at Mississippi,
the death of Herbert Lee, and that ballad tradition
that comes out of Mississippi. So I really look all across
the South in my book. Thank you. And you may have
mentioned this while I was reading the
questions, but when do you anticipate
the book coming out? When do I anticipate? Yeah. I anticipated this year. No pressure. I anticipated this year,
and we saw where that went. So I’m hoping in the
next couple years. So definitely by
2020, preferably 2019. I’m still investigating
publishers. Whether it will be an
academic press or whether it might be a more
general readership, that’s still being negotiated. Great. So if anyone has a last
minute questions, please do type it in. But let me just tell you
that we will send out the recording of this. So it will be about a
week before I can do that, but I will email everyone
the recording of this. And we will also send
you the Spotify playlist. If you haven’t had a chance to
listen to the songs in full, we’ll send that to you. Oh, and Erin is sneaking
in one more question here. This is great, Erin. Could I do a little thank you
to Dave for doing the Spotify? That was really great. Yes. Our colleague, Dave,
did the Spotify list. Thank you. Erin, she says, “You’ve
noted a difference between singing and
chanting, and I’d like to hear more
of your thoughts about the differences regarding
the four functions you laid out for these songs. Do you see song having unique
advantages on these points?” Yeah. I think that songs have
a broader emotional range than chanting. Chanting tends to be either
argumentative or sometimes just sort of self-affirming. But I think those other
emotional responses that we find in music
you can’t really get with chanting, at
least not that I’ve seen in movement footage,
contemporary movement footage, or the movement
events that I’ve been at. So I think that, for me,
that’s the biggest one. That the chanting tends
to be argumentative. Singing can somehow
respond to that argument without becoming violent. It is an ultimately non-violent
response to violence. And certainly Charlottesville
is an example. We see how it turns that
violence on its head. Oh, we have another one. You guys, this is great. We love the questions. Reggie asks, “Have you heard
any songs in the last 10 to 15 years, and thought, wow, that
would have made a great move song?” Oh, wow. No, but if Reggie
has some suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them. Reggie, you have
some homework here. Yeah, really. Are we at about the point,
Sarah, where I can finish up? Have you done the things
that you need to do? Because I have just a little bit
more that I wanted to end with. Yeah, absolutely. There’s only one more
thing that I wanted to say, which is that if
anyone is interested, we have a wonderful
experience that we have planned for next month. And I sent everyone
a reminder email, so you are more than welcome
to reply to that email– which will come directly to me– and ask about Experience
Building The Dream, which will be with Dr. Fluker. Hopefully you’ve
all heard about it. But we will actually be
visiting all of the places that Dr. Boots mentioned
in her presentation. We’ll be going to Keller Ingram
Park, the 16th Street Church. We will be going to the Edmund
Pettus Bridge in Montgomery. We’re going to visit
that the new museum and the new memorial that
just opened in April. So I have a few spots left
if anyone is interested, and I would love for some of
you to join us– for all of you to join us. So please inquire with
me if you’re interested. You can also go to and you’ll find all
the information there. So I’m going to turn it
back over to you Dr. Boots. Take it away. Let me just say one thing. Dr. Fluker is fantastic. You really will have a
marvelous experience, those of you who are
planning to go on that trip. I recommend it completely. If we’re going to talk about
music during the movement, we have to at least spend
a little bit of time with We Shall Overcome, the
anthem of the civil rights movement. And I just want to
make one point about it and then close, because it often
was used as a closing song. When the mass meeting was over– it was used at other times too. In fact, if you look at
the footage of the March on Washington, there are
several times, many, many times, where people start
singing We Shall Overcome, and it just blooms and
consumes the entire audience. It was indeed called the anthem
of the civil rights movement. And there’s been some
contention over the years who came up with it, where
does it come from. And my way of
thinking about it is that it’s collective
and composite in terms of its origin. Like most folk songs
and most spirituals, no single individual
can claim credit, but many can justifiably
say they contributed to it. So the tune largely comes from
a spiritual, Many Thousand Gone. There’s a great deal of
music DNA, if you will, from Reverend Charles
Tindley’s gospel song, I’ll Overcome Someday. It was a labor
movement song that was heard by Zilphia Horton. Her husband headed
the Highlander Center, and she heard the Negro Food
and Tobacco Workers on strike in Charleston, South
Carolina in 1945 singing a song, which may well
have been Louise Shropshire’s song, If My Jesus Wills,
but had new words to it. And so Zilphia brought the
song that she heard back to Highlander. That’s where Guy
Carawan heard it. That’s where Pete
Seeger learned it. Guy taught it to
the SNCC students at their first meeting. Pete sang it everywhere, and
the musical dye was cast. As we conclude, I want to play
the version from the Spotify collection, and I
have a short reading. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – [INAUDIBLE] Walker was an
SCLC staff member, activist, and freedom [INAUDIBLE] who
wrote about We Shall Overcome. One cannot describe the
[INAUDIBLE] one song [INAUDIBLE]. I’ve heard it sung in
[INAUDIBLE] in a thousand places [INAUDIBLE]. I’ve heard [INAUDIBLE] prison. I’ve heard old women singing it
on the way to work, [INAUDIBLE] worker. I’ve heard the students
singing it as they were– (SINGING) We shall
overcome some day. We shall overcome,
we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day. Oh, deep in my
heart I do believe, we shall overcome some day. The truth will make us free. The truth will make us– [END PLAYBACK] Dr. Boots, thank you
so much, and thank you to everyone who joined us. We will be in touch. And please, please feel welcome
to reach out to the BU Alumni Association anytime. We love hearing from you. Have a wonderful
afternoon, everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *