"An important part of the mass meetings was the freedom songs. In a sense the freedom songs are the soul of the movement. They are more than just incantations of clever phrases designed to invigorate a campaign; they are as old as the history of the Negro in America. They are adaptations of the songs the slaves sang--the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns and the anthems of our movement. I have heard people talk of their beat and rhythm, but we in the movement are as inspired by their words. 'Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom' is a sentence that needs no music to make its point. We sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that 'We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday.'
"I have stood in a meeting with hundreds of youngsters and joined in while they sang 'Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round.' It is not just a song; it is a resolve. A few minutes later, I have seen those same youngsters refuse to turn around from the onrush of a police dog, refuse to turn around before a pugnacious Bull Connor in command of men armed with power hoses. These songs bind us together, give us courage together, help us to march together."
--from Why We Can't Wait
This King Day, I'm enjoying Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1966. I also recommend the documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution. Freedom Song is a fictionalized story about the civil rights movement that offers some insights into the importance of freedom songs.
Another treat: Leonard Lopate's annual tribute to MLK. Here's a link to last year's broadcast. And here's this year's!
An earlier post, with additional favorites, is here.