Books and Articles
About the author
Resources for Learning More about Social Movements and Culture
Chapter 1. Singing Civil Rights: The Freedom Song Tradition
Burns, Stewart, ed. Daybreak of Freedom. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1997. Excellent book that tells the story of the pivotal Montgomery bus boycott through firsthand accounts and documents from many perspectives.
Carawan, Guy, and Candie Carawan, eds. Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Its Songs. New York: Sing Out, 1990. Fine compilation of lyrics and songs with commentaries on each by the editors and other movement activists.
Carson, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. 1981; repr. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Best overview of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.
Collier-Thomas, Bettye, and V. P. Franklin, eds. Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women of the Civil Rights–Black Power Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Extends, updates, and deepens the work begun in Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement, edited by Crawford, Rouse, and Woods.
Crawford, Vicki, Jacqueline Rouse, and Barbara Woods, eds. Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. Pathbreaking volume in the ongoing task of correcting the distorted gender picture in histories of the civil rights movement. Includes women foremothers preceding the 1950–60s movement.
Denisoff, R. Serge. Sing a Song of Social Significance. Bowling Green, KY: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1983. Includes much analysis of freedom songs, as well as other related protest songs, before and after the civil rights movement.
Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Important study focuses on ordinary folks struggling in one of the most dangerous areas the movement entered.
McDonnell, John. Songs of Struggle and Protest. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1979. Places freedom songs in the wide tradition of folk rebellions going back centuries.
Morris, Aldon. Origins of the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Free Press, 1984. Excellent treatment of church culture and politics of the early civil rights movement.
Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. The best book on the movement culture of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the Deep South, and the richest treatment of the radically democratic culture growing out of the “organizing tradition” nourished by folks like Ella Baker.
Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Excellent biography of the great antileader of the civil rights movement.
Reagon, Bernice Johnson. “Songs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1955–1965: A Study in Culture History.” PhD diss., Howard University, 1975. Ann Arbor, MI: Xerox University Microfilms, 1975. The major study of music in the civil rights movement by the great participant-observer member of the SNCC Freedom Singers.
———. “The Power of Communal Song.” In Cultures in Contention, ed. Douglas Kahn and Diane Neumaier. Seattle: Real Comet Press, 1985. Condensed statement of Reagon’s wisdom on music in movement struggles.
Sanger, Kerran L. “When the Spirit Says Sing!”: The Role of Freedom Songs in the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Garland, 1995. Solid, detailed study.
Seeger, Pete, and Bob Reiser. Everyone Says Freedom. New York: Norton, 1989. Collection of freedom song lyrics and music with commentary.
Walker, Alice. Meridian. New York: Pocket Books, 1976. Powerful novel about the civil rights movement and its transition into the black power phase.
Eyes on the Prize (first series). Directed by Henry Hampton. Blackside, 1987. Six great one-hour documentaries tracing the whole history of the civil rights movement. Bernice Johnson Reagon did the music for the series, and it is therefore rich in freedom songs. See also the excellent companion PBS website.
A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. Directed by Steve York and Peter Ackerman. York Zimmerman/WETA Production, 2000. PBS documentary that places the civil rights movement in relation to the long tradition of nonviolent struggle. Includes some freedom song audio clips.
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Songs of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Various Artists. Folk Era Records, 1994.
Freedom on My Mind. Directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Mumford. California Newsreel, 1994. Excellent documentary film using organizing in the crucial state of Mississippi as the lens through which to tell the movement story.
Freedom Song. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Turner Television Movies, 2001. One of the few good fiction films about the civil rights movement era, the film focuses on ordinary folks doing extraordinary things. See the online educator’s guide.
Fundi. Directed by Joanne Grant. Icarus Films, 1986. Documentary film on the life of the great organizer Ella Baker.
The Story of Greenwood Mississippi. Smithsonian Folkways Records. Traces the impact of freedom songs on one particular community in struggle.
Strange Fruit. Directed by Joel Katz. PBS Independent Lens, 2003. Places Billie Holiday’s antilynching song “Strange Fruit” in the context of the wider history of freedom songs.
Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs, 1960–1966. Smithsonian Folkways Records. Excellent, extensive set of recordings.
We Shall Overcome. Directed by Jim Brown. California Newsreel, 1989. Documentary using the story of the most famous freedom song to trace the role of music in the labor and civil rights movements.
African American History: The Civil Rights Movement. List of some additional civil rights movement links beyond the ones listed below.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Exhibits and documents from one of the battlegrounds of the movement.
The Civil Rights Era. Overview site from the American Memory Project, rich in images and sound.
Civil Rights in Mississippi: Digital Archive. Get a sense of the daily life struggles of ordinary folks in the civil rights movement.
Civil Rights Movement Veterans. Direct commentary from dozens of participants in the movement. Includes excellent bibliography and many useful links on specific figures, organizations, events, and ideas of the movement.
Educator’s Guide to “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Tells the story of how song was used in the Underground Railroad to lead folks out of slavery.
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Carrying on in the tradition of “Miss Baker’s” group-centered organizing methods.
Freedom Songs. Includes audio tracks and lyrics, focused especially on the important Nashville movement.
Greensboro Sit-ins: Launch of a Civil Rights Movement. Pictures, audio, and documents about the rise of the sit-in phase of the movement in the town where it was born.
Guy and Candie Carawan: A Personal Story through Sight and Sound. Civil rights story in song. Civil rights movement singer-activists Guy and Candie Carawan discuss the movement and the role of music they did so much to foster.
The King Center, Atlanta. Not only a documentation of King’s work and the wider movement, but an ongoing resource for nonviolent resistance to oppression.
Lift Every Voice: Protest Songs. University of Virginia Library. Words, images, and audio on the place of protest songs in wider U.S. musical culture.
Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. Stanford University. Includes video and audio clips of speeches, documents, chronology, and bibliography.
National Civil Rights Museum. Memphis. Located in the motel where King was assassinated, this museum includes many interactive features on civil rights movement history. Exhibits have included “Music and the Movement.”
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. These three Folkways Records sites include sample audio clips of the songs:
Voices of the Civil Rights Movement.
Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama.
The Story of Greenwood, Mississippi.
SNCC: 1960–1966. Provides a solid overview of this key group and has links to many SNCC documents and other resources.
Southern Freedom Movement Links. Good list of additional civil rights movement–related websites.