Between the Lines

Random reflections from the youth in a juvenile correctional facility.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Music and the Civil Rights Movement

How did music effect the civil rights movement? Our blog entries for this week are based on the Music Movement Medley background essay, quick time video, and discussion questions from Teachers Domain . TD requires you to log in. Membership is free.

Drawing from the reservoir of traditional African American songs, music provided a constant backdrop to the Civil Rights movement. Some songs were spirituals dating back to the era of slavery, others were songs taken from church traditions, and some were composed for specific events during the movement. Very few relied on accompanying instruments, other than clapping, but the common denominator in all of the music sung during the Civil Rights movement was the theme of freedom.

Freedom songs were often sung as a motivating force during group demonstrations, mass meetings, and church services. Most of the singing was congregational, or communal, begun by a leader who was then joined by others who "grew" the song. Sometimes the leader issued a call, and the group would respond, often rotating leaders for different verses. Harmonies, rolling bass, and dissonance all gave the feeling of surging forward.

Songs like "Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom" and "We Shall Overcome" facilitated unity, lifted spirits, and prepared people for direct action. At mass meetings held to sustain the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, African Americans came together in song. As they were loaded into police wagons and crowded into jail cells during the sit-ins and Freedom Rides of the 1960s, civil rights demonstrators communicated with one another through music.

Frederick Leonard, who was arrested and jailed for participating in the Freedom Rides of 1961, remembers prison guards telling the black prisoners to stop singing. Guards threatened that if they didn't stop singing, their mattresses would be taken away, leaving a hard, cold floor to sleep on. The black prisoners continued singing, even after the mattresses were removed.

What were some of the different roles that music played in the Civil Rights movement? Where did people tend to sing? What do you notice about the music and the people who sang it? How would you describe the different styles of music you hear?

I think that some black people got together at church and maybe sometimes in streets to sing in remorse. They feel mad because they were being discriminated against and singing made them happy. People were singing in church and in festivals. These people singing were having a good time and it looked as if it was a spiritual thing. The music lifted spirits and prepared people for direct action. HZ

Music played a big part in the civil rights movement and it still does today. The music played a big part in motivating the people who were involved. They sang in church, at gatherings, and at protests. They sang with their souls and showed real meaning to what is being sung. Most of the songs are gospel songs. SS


Post a Comment

<< Home