The Civil Rights Movement gained national attention in the early 1960s. The many protests, marches, and stands for equality were sustained by freedom songs and music from musicians-turned-activists. The setbacks, hardships, failures, and successes of the movement for racial equality can be told through song.
We curated a playlist highlighting some of the songs that delivered powerful messages during that time period, namely “We Shall Overcome,” an old African American hymn that gained popularity in the 1950s. The song became the unofficial anthem of the movement, bringing strength, support, and hope to activists—during protest marches, in the face of violence, and in jail cells.
We’ve written before about civility, history, and song, and how music fueled and guided the movement. When featured on Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being, back in 2011, Vincent Harding, theologian and speechwriter for Martin Luther King, Jr., presented an outlook on a “kumbaya moment” that will change the way you think about the song. “Kumbaya” and other old spirituals fueled passion, healed grief, and brought courage to those singing along.
Our playlist below features freedom songs, influenced folk artists and activists, spirituals, and music from several black musicians telling the story of the struggle. These songs continue to inspire us to stand together and to walk together as equals. Listen, learn, reflect, and sing along—you won’t be alone.
All photos from Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore.