Listening to the BBC Radio 4 Songs of the Civil Rights Movement this morning I was yet again struck by the importance of music in campaigns. I was 13 when Martin Luther King was killed and remember crying in front of the telly, much more because of the singing and the raw grief on display than because I understood the politics of the Civil Rights Movement. ‘We Shall Overcome’ never fails to move me and it is the one we somehow always return to when we need to stand together in times of trouble.
In the broadcast Bob Zellner talks about a 1963 night march in in Denver, Virginia, where the Civil Rights protesters stood on the Town Hall steps, waiting to make their way to the church. Faced with a make-shift police force of deputies drafted in from fire and garbage collection services armed with fire hoses and table legs, and knowing that 123 people had been hospitalised the previous night in a similar situation, they sang Amazing Grace as they slowly walked towards the police ‘and they [police] parted’. Zellner quotes ‘an old Civil Rights saying: When in doubt, pray and sing!’