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251 8 People Get Ready: The Civil Rights Movement, Protest Music, and the Rhetoric of Resistance Stephen A. King When the revolution comes Guns and rifles will be taking the place of poems and essays —The Last Poets, “When the Revolution Comes” T he 1960s are remembered for their brilliant speakers and speeches like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet,” and Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Power.” The 1960s are remembered for voter registration drives and Freedom Rides, picket lines and demonstrations, peace symbols and obscenity, manifestos and bumper stickers, nonviolent resistance and armed self-defense, escalation, and physical confrontation.1 The 1960s are remembered for their counterculture groups like the hippies and Yippies, as well as social movements with their memorable acronyms: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Organization for Women (NOW). The 1960s are remembered for the creative expansion of the rhetoric of protest. Speeches were certainly important, but so were the sit-ins and slogans that Franklyn S. Haiman called the “rhetoric of the street.”2 The 1960s are also remembered for their music. A young Bob Dylan, a Woody Guthrie protégé, prophesized that “the times they are changin.’” Dylan, along with Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Peter, Paul and Mary, Donovan, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, and other folk musicians wrote or performed a whole canon of significant protest songs like “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” “The Cruel War,” and “We Shall Overcome.” Aretha Franklin demanded respect, James Brown defiantly announced to white America that he was “black” and “proud,” and SOCIAL CONTROVERSY AND PUBLIC ADDRESS IN THE 1960S AND EARLY 1970S 252 Marvin Gaye’s stirring concept album, What’s Going On, lamented war and death, decried black poverty, and urged spiritual unity. One could hardly mention popular rock artists of the day like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors, Buffalo Springfield, and Jimi Hendrix without also mentioning the word “protest.” Protest music was seemingly everywhere: in coffeehouses , churches, and concert halls, demonstrations and protest meetings, FM radio stations, the Smothers Brothers Show on television, the Monterey Pop Festival, and Woodstock. The music literally changed the nation. As one observer noted, “During an age of social unrest in America, arguably the most effective form of protest was music.”3 Scholars and other observers have remarked on the dynamic relationship between music and protest. Writing in 1974, sociologists William S. Fox and James D. Williams summarized the view of scholars who argued that contemporary popular music is a “politically significant cultural product.” They said that music confronts “traditional values and assert[s] new ones, by presenting demands for social change, by raising the political consciousness of listeners, and by building support for collective movements for social change.”4 More recently, a number of scholars, representing a wide range of disciplinary interests, have argued that protest songs are powerful musical “weapons” that communicate dissatisfaction with the status quo, spark societal change, and build group solidarity.5 Billy Bragg, a contemporary political folk artist, agrees when he argues, somewhat romantically, that the protest music of the 1960s made an indelible mark on the decade, “sweeping away the old order, crossing barriers of race and class, giving voice to those who had previously been excluded.”6 In his vivid characterization of the sixties, communication scholar James Lull places protest music at the center of the massive resistance against social norms and political policies that the youth, in particular, found intolerable: Perhaps the most compelling illustration of the power of music as an agent of resistance in the United States during this century, however, is the period from the middle 1960s to the early 1970s. Americans were torn by the hostile involvement in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the “credibility gap” and the “generation gap,” a stirring of feminist concerns, a dramatic increase in drug use among middle-class and upper-class youth, the assassination of some of the nation’s most charismatic leaders, a new awareness of environmental issues, and a general retrenchment of the ideological orientation among those youth who were fortunate enough not to have day-to-day matters of survival interfere with their ability to reflect on the many major issues of the day.7 Despite the historic role music has played in American protest and the important relationship...


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