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John Simkin

Poems and Lyrics: Civil Rights

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I have always been disappointed by the lack of cross-curricular work that goes on in schools. One way you can encourage this is by making materials available. One possiblity is for the English, Music and History departments to get together on a Civil Rights topic. I will post these materials in all three topic areas. I hope others who contribute do the same.

Big Bill Broonzy, Black, Brown And White

This little song that I'm singin' about,

People, you all know that it's true,

If you're black and gotta work for livin',

Now, this is what they will say to you,

They says: If you was white,

You's alright,

If you was brown,

Stick around,

But if you's black, oh, brother,

Get back, get back, get back.

I was in a place one night,

They was all havin' fun,

They was all buyin' beer and wine,

But they would not sell me none.

They said: If you was white,

You's alright,

If you was brown,

You could stick around,

But as you's black, hmm, hmm, brother,

Get back, get back, get back.

I went to an employment office,

I got a number, I got in line,

They called everybody's number,

But they never did call mine.

They said: If you was white,

You's alright,

If you was brown,

You could stick around,

But as you's black, hmm, hmm, brother,

Get back, get back, get back.

Me and a man was workin' side by side,

Now, this is what it meant:

They was payin' him a dollar an hour,

And they was payin' me fifty cent.

They said: If you was white,

You'd be alright,

If you was brown,

You could stick around,

But as you's black, oh, brother,

Get back, get back, get back.

I helped win sweet victories,

With my plow and hoe,

Now, I want you to tell me, brother,

What you gonna do 'bout the old Jim Crow?

Now, if you is white,

You's alright,

If you's brown,

Stick around,

But if you's black,

Hmm, hmm, brother,

Get back, get back, get back.

In 1937 Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from New York, saw a photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. Meeropol later recalled how the photograph "haunted me for days" and inspired the writing of the poem, Strange Fruit. Meeropol, a member of the American Communist Party, using the pseudonym, Lewis Allan, published the poem in the New York Teacher and later, the Marxist journal, New Masses.

After seeing Billie Holiday perform at the club, Café Society, in New York, Meeropol showed her the poem. Holiday liked it and after working on it with Sonny White turned the poem into the song, Strange Fruit. The record made it to No. 16 on the charts in July 1939. However, the song was denounced by Time Magazine as "a prime piece of musical propaganda" for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Abel Meeropol, Strange Fruit (1939)

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Meeropol remained active in the American Communist Party and after the execution of Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg he adopted their two sons. He taught at the De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx for 27 years, but continued to write songs, including the Frank Sinatra hit, The House I Live In.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USACstrangefruit.htm

It is claimed this song helped influence the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Bob Dylan, Death of Emmett Till (1963)

Twas down in Mississippi no so long ago,

When a young boy from Chicago town stepped through a Southern door.

This boy's dreadful tragedy I can still remember well,

The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till.

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up.

They said they had a reason, but I can't remember what.

They tortured him and did some evil things too evil to repeat.

There was screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds out on the street.

Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a bloody red rain

And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain.

The reason that they killed him there, and I'm sure it ain't no lie,

Was just for the fun of killin' him and to watch him slowly die.

And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial,

Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till.

But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this awful crime,

And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody seemed to mind.

I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see

The smiling brothers walkin' down the courthouse stairs.

For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free,

While Emmett's body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea.

If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,

Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt, your mind is filled with dust.

Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow,

For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man

That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan.

But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give,

We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live.

For more information on the case see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAtillE.htm

Too Many Martyrs (Phil Ochs and Bob Gibson)

In the state of Mississippi many years ago

A boy of 14 years got a taste of southern law

He saw his friend a hanging and his color was his crime

And the blood upon his jacket left a brand upon his mind

CHORUS:

Too many martyrs and too many dead

Too many lies too many empty words were said

Too many times for too many angry men

Oh let it never be again

His name was Medgar Evers and he walked his road alone

Like Emmett Till and thousands more whose names we'll never know

They tried to burn his home and they beat him to the ground

But deep inside they both knew what it took to bring him down

CHORUS:

Too many martyrs and too many dead

Too many lies too many empty words were said

Too many times for too many angry men

Oh let it never be again

The killer waited by his home hidden by the night

As Evers stepped out from his car into the rifle sight

he slowly squeezed the trigger, the bullet left his side

It struck the heart of every man when Evers fell and died.

CHORUS:

Too many martyrs and too many dead

Too many lies too many empty words were said

Too many times for too many angry men

Oh let it never be again

And they laid him in his grave while the bugle sounded clear

laid him in his grave when the victory was near

While we waited for the future for freedom through the land (*)

The country gained a killer and the country lost a man

CHORUS:

Too many martyrs and too many dead

Too many lies too many empty words were said

Too many times for too many angry men

Oh let it never be again

For more information on Medgar Evers see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAevers.htm

Freedom Riders, Phil Ochs (1962)

Jackson, Mississippi, is a mighty white town,

the white folks they like to keep the black folks down

they think they'll be allright, but there's gonna be a fight

and they'll have to share that freedom crown,

yes, they'll have to share that freedom crown.

Freedom Riders roll along

Freedom Riders won't be long

won't be long.

They boarded a bus in Washington D.C.

to enter a state half slave and half free

the wheels hummed a song and they sang along

the song of liberty, the song of liberty.

Jimmy Farmer was a hard fightin' man

decided one day that he had to make a stand

he led them down to slavery town

and they threw Jim Farmer in the can

and they threw Jim Farmer in the can.

One of these days and it won't be long

the solid South is gonna sing another song

They'll understand that a man's not a man

'til he has all the freedoms of the land.

For information on the Freedom Riders see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAfreedomR.htm

The following can be used when teaching Civil Rights or the American West.

Bob Marley (Buffalo Soldier)

Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta:

There was a buffalo soldier in the heart of America,

Stolen from Africa, brought to America,

Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.

I mean it, when I analyze the stench -

To me it makes a lot of sense:

How the dreadlock rasta was the buffalo soldier,

And he was taken from africa, brought to America,

Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.

Said he was a buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta -

Buffalo soldier in the heart of America.

If you know your history,

Then you would know where you coming from,

Then you wouldn’t have to ask me,

Who the ’eck do I think I am.

I’m just a buffalo soldier in the heart of America,

Stolen from Africa, brought to America,

Said he was fighting on arrival, fighting for survival;

Said he was a buffalo soldier win the war for America.

Dreadie, woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,

Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!

Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,

Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!

Buffalo soldier troddin’ through the land, wo-ho-ooh!

Said he wanna ran, then you wanna hand,

Troddin’ through the land, yea-hea, yea-ea.

Said he was a buffalo soldier win the war for America;

Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta,

Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival;

Driven from the mainland to the heart of the Caribbean.

Troddin’ through San Juan in the arms of America;

Troddin’ through Jamaica, a buffalo soldier -

Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival:

Buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta.

For more information on Buffalo Soldiers see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WWflipper.htm

Bob Dylan, George Jackson (1971)

I woke up this mornin',

There were tears in my bed.

They killed a man I really loved

Shot him through the head.

Lord, Lord,

They cut George Jackson down.

Lord, Lord,

They laid him in the ground.

Sent him off to prison

For a seventy-dollar robbery.

Closed the door behind him

And they threw away the key.

Lord, Lord,

They cut George Jackson down.

Lord, Lord,

They laid him in the ground.

He wouldn't take xxxx from no one

He wouldn't bow down or kneel.

Authorities, they hated him

Because he was just too real.

Lord, Lord,

They cut George Jackson down.

Lord, Lord,

They laid him in the ground.

Prison guards, they cursed him

As they watched him from above

But they were frightened of his power

They were scared of his love.

Lord, Lord,

So they cut George Jackson down.

Lord, Lord,

They laid him in the ground.

Sometimes I think this whole world

Is one big prison yard.

Some of us are prisoners

The rest of us are guards.

Lord, Lord,

They cut George Jackson down.

Lord, Lord,

They laid him in the ground.

For more information on George Jackson see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USACjacksonG.htm

Bob Dylan, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964)

William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll

With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger

At a Baltimore hotel society gath'rin'.

And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him

As they rode him in custody down to the station

And booked William Zantzinger for first-degree murder.

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,

Take the rag away from your face.

Now ain't the time for your tears.

William Zantzinger, who at twenty-four years

Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres

With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him

And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,

Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders

And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling,

In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,

Take the rag away from your face.

Now ain't the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.

She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children

Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage

And never sat once at the head of the table

And didn't even talk to the people at the table

Who just cleaned up all the food from the table

And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,

Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane

That sailed through the air and came down through the room,

Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.

And she never done nothing to William Zantzinger.

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,

Take the rag away from your face.

Now ain't the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel

To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level

And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded

And that even the nobles get properly handled

Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em

And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom,

Stared at the person who killed for no reason

Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'.

And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,

And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,

William Zantzinger with a six-month sentence.

Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,

Bury the rag deep in your face

For now's the time for your tears.

The Art of Hattie Carroll by Phil Ochs

http://www.cs.pdx.edu/~trent/ochs/hattie-carroll.html

Brief Background to the Case

http://www.expectingrain.com/dok/who/c/carrollhattie.html

Finally, a song that can be sung in the class together:

Pete Seeger, If I Had a Hammer

If I had a hammer

I'd hammer in the morning

I'd hammer in the evening ... all over this land,

I'd hammer out danger

I'd hammer out a warning

I'd hammer out love between all of my brothers and my sisters

All over this land.

If I had a bell

I'd ring it in the morning

I'd ring it in the evening ... all over this land,

I'd ring out danger

I'd ring out a warning

I'd ring out love between all of my brothers and my sisters

All over this land.

If I had a song

I'd sing it in the morning

I'd sing it in the evening ... all over this world,

I'd sing out danger

I'd sing out a warning

I'd sing out love between all of my brothers and my sisters

All over this land.

If I've got a hammer

And I've got a bell

And I've got a song to sing ... all over this land,

It's a hammer of justice

It's a bell of freedom

It's a song about love between all of my brothers and my sisters

All over this land.

For more information on Pete Seeger see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAseeger.htm

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