Yesterday my organization held a screening of the great PBS film Sountrack for a Revolution, which documents the music of the civil rights movement in the American 1960s. It’s produced by Danny Glover and features many civil rights activists telling their stories of nonviolent protest in service of an end to racial discrimination. I am a student of the civil rights movement, and of non-violence more broadly, and the film treats the subject well. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to Bloody Sunday to the assassination of Dr. King, the film enumerates the movement’s struggles and triumphs poignantly.
Music is the lens through which the information is presented – modern acts perform songs such as Wade in the Water, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round, This Little Light of Mine, We Shall Overcome, and many more. John Legends, Joss Stone, The Roots, and others come together to honor the original music with their own moving tributes, and singers/songwriters who were there at times add their own voices.
The songs of the movement were composed on the spot, they were written for specific instances, and they were old spirituals, all deployed as a form of protest and a way to cope. One man said, “They could arrest us, but they couldn’t stop our singing. Even if they put gags in our mouth, we could still hum.” And of course they did gag freedom fighters – they were beaten, tortured, and killed as they demonstrated for equal rights. Mississippi, in particular, was a locus of terrible pain and suffering. And it was in Memphis where the great Reverend King succumbed to hate and fear.
Many Americans believe we are entering a dark time, as a man who campaigned on racism has been elevated to the presidency in the United States. I’m trying to take a wait-and-see approach, but as a Klan apologist is nominated for Attorney General and an alt-right conspiracy theorist has an office in the West Wing and the ear of the president, I am prepared to stand with all of those for whom the dominant power structure wishes to turn back the clock. Hell no: we Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Round.
Thanks for reading.