As I’ve been slowly going through the wonderful book by Dorian Lynskey, 33 revolutions per minute, I’ve realized that the stories I’ve pondered over most are about the American civil rights movement.
First it was the story of Strange Fruit. Now it’s the story of We Shall Overcome.
I’ve sung the song all through my childhood at school and in the forest with my little scout friends. I remember thinking that the song has a very simple yet beautiful melody. Easy to remember, easy to learn. Plenty of lyrics, and I didn’t quite understand why the song needed so many.
There’s a passage in Lynskey’s book that describes the story in such a good way:
It was a vagabond song, circulating through the South, known by many, owned by none, mutable in its particulars but constant in its melody and message. It held out the promised of victory – maybe not today, but someday, someday.
Through the years people got inspired, found strength, learned to resist, and at the same time got fed up and frustrated, beaten and killed, and still, the song was and is there to inspire new generations.
When I was a kid I was blissfully ignorant about the song’s background, and maybe good that I was.
According to Lynskey, Pete Seeger first encountered the song at a leftist Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in 1947. Highlander opened doors to people of all races. Culture was an integral part of the curriculum, and people were encouraged to feel good about themselves, their communities and their music. A few years later, in 1955, Rosa Parks visited the school. Three months after her visit, she started a storm in Montgomery, Alabama, by refusing to give her seat to a white person on a bus.
The story does not tell whether Rosa Parks heard the song performed or not, but I’d like to think she did. To me, the thought that a simple song is enough for ground-breaking determination, is very encouraging.
I would like to see something happen in today’s society, too. Do we need inspirational songs to fight back the narrow-minded bigots who want to close our borders, refuse human rights from fellow citizens and make others grow surrounded by their religious beliefs and their so-called normalcy?
It seems political discussion is not enough anymore. It’s the ground-breaking determination we need.
♥ In the meantime: If Finnair really starts implementing the concept of meat-free Monday, I’ll be very happy. For me, it does not make a difference whether it’s a company borrowing the idea from an international movement or trying to brand itself towards being more ecological. It’s about the willingness to change, even with the risk of (initially) upset customers and minor financial setbacks. Profound changes always stir up some foul attitudes in society, resulting in people claiming they have a constitutional right to choose what they eat.
♣ Song of the day: Mahalia Jackson, Keep your eyes on the prize