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Freedom Song: Young Voices and the Struggle for Civil Rights

Freedom Song: Young Voices and the Struggle for Civil Rights

4.6 39
by Mary C. Turck

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Blending memorable music with a historical context, this exploration provides a fresh perspective on the civil rights movement by showing how certain songs served as its voice. From the Chicago Children's Choir to the SNCC Freedom Singers, this resource examines the churches and groups that worked to counteract segregation, transforming traditional spirituals to fit


Blending memorable music with a historical context, this exploration provides a fresh perspective on the civil rights movement by showing how certain songs served as its voice. From the Chicago Children's Choir to the SNCC Freedom Singers, this resource examines the churches and groups that worked to counteract segregation, transforming traditional spirituals to fit the struggle for civil rights. The galvanizing roles of numerous songs are discussed in detail, such as "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," "Wade in the Water," and "We Shall Overcome." An accompanying CD, Songs on the Road to Freedom, features the Chicago Children's Choir performing the songs discussed throughout the book.

Editorial Reviews

An excellent book for research
New Pittsburgh Courier
For [children]-or for any adult who lived during the movement-this book is music to their eyes.
Soujourners and sojo.net
Skipping Stones

Provides a fresh perspective on the civil rights movement.

VOYA - Stacy Hayman
This book was written to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicago Children's Choir and to look back at the history of the civil rights movement through the choir. The choir was formed by a young Unitarian minister who was committed to including children of different ethnic and economic backgrounds into one cohesive group. The choir and those supporting them could be considered musical spokespeople of change. As a research tool, this book will appeal almost exclusively to teens who are interested in learning everything they can about the songs, singers, and songwriters of the civil rights movement. The constant switching from the present to the past and back makes the narrative more difficult to read as a complete story. The explanation of phrases, such as restrictive covenant, de facto, and plaintiff, is helpful for younger teens but clunky in execution. An accompanying CD of songs, recorded by the current Chicago Children's Choir, include popular and traditional songs that are meaningful in the movement's history. The songs are a pleasure to hear. The song appendix, an explanation of the songs on the Road to Freedom CD, and the resources (suggested Web sites, music, videos/DVDs, books) are the features that make this book a unique purchase. Reviewer: Stacy Hayman
School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up

Many books have been written about the Civil Rights Movement, but this one, with its unique focus, adds a new and captivating facet to the subject. Its premise is that music was the universal link that bound together the young and old, black and white as one, with a singular purpose: to seek equality and justice for all. The book is divided into chapters that represent the history of the Civil Rights Movement. "Sunday of Song," "Singing in the Churches," and "South Africa," for example, contain information about the factual events while including how the evolution of the music captured the mood and sentiment of the time. The importance of music in the lives of African Americans is described in depth: the instruments used; the types of songs, including field hollers, spirituals, gospel, and protest music, are examined for their impact on the movement in the past and up to the present day. The many clear, black-and-white photos give readers a real sense of the determination and courage that was shown. Images of the musicians and singers such as Woody Guthrie and Billie Holiday are shown alongside the songs they wrote. The accompanying CD allows students to internalize the words and their emotional impact as they listen. Overall, this informative and well-written book is an excellent addition to any collection.-Margaret Auguste, Franklin Middle School, Somerset, NJ

Kirkus Reviews
From the introduction, it seems that this will be the story of the Chicago Children's Choir, a world-renowned choir inspired by the civil-rights movement and committed to excellence, racial equality and social justice. However, the story of the choir is swamped by the in-depth coverage of the civil-rights movement. Though eloquently written, with song lyrics and well-chosen photographs breaking up the text, the volume misses an opportunity to tell the story from a fresh perspective. Still, Turck does a fine job of reminding readers about several important issues: "Segregation in the South was enforced by law. Segregation in the North was enforced by simple racism"; the civil-rights movement is not over, but continues today through the struggles by gay people, immigrants, students and many people around the world; African-Americans have struggled for civil rights since the days of slavery. An accompanying CD will inspire readers to learn more about how music went hand-in-hand with the struggle, and a wealth of websites, music and videos is listed in the bibliography. (song appendix, notes on the CD) (Nonfiction. 9 & up)
From the Publisher
"Unique focus . . . captivating . . . this informative and well-written book is an excellent addition to any collection."  —School Library Journal

"The Civil Rights movement was the singingest movement I've ever known. . . . I'm not the only one who believes that songs may save this human race."  —Pete Seeger

"For [children]—or for any adult who lived during the movement—this book is music to their eyes."  —New Pittsburgh Courier, Hudson Valley Parent, Madison Times, Santa Ynez Valley Journal, insightnews.com, Houston Style, Fairhope Courier, and Foley Onlooker

"An excellent book for research."  —abbylibrarian.com

"Great."  —Soujourners and sojo.net

"Provides a fresh perspective on the civil rights movement."  —Skipping Stones

"Plenty of interesting information . . . an attractive design."  —booklistonline.com

"It's hard to describe, in a few short paragraphs, all the goodness in Freedom Song . . . this book is music to [the] eyes."  —Bookworm Sez

Product Details

Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
7 MB
Age Range:
9 Years

Read an Excerpt

Freedom Song

Young Voices and the Struggle for Civil Rights

By Mary C. Turck

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2009 Mary C. Turck
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-326-3


Sunday of Song

You are important to me, I need you to survive

During the early years of the civil rights movement, black churches were much more than religious buildings. Because of segregation, they also served their communities as cultural and political centers. Churches were where civil rights activists would come together to plan their demonstrations. In Birmingham, Alabama, these meetings took place every Monday night, moving from church to church. If too many meetings were held in one church, it would become known as the "civil rights church." It would become a target for racists, who might bomb or burn it. By moving around, people hoped to keep their churches safe.

On a September Sunday in 1963, the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham echoed with chatter and laughter. Teenagers combed their hair and checked themselves in the mirrors. That Sunday, on Youth Day, they would lead the services. They were ready to stand in front of everyone, ready to lead, ready for life.

And then life ended. A bomb blast shook the church, tumbled the walls, and killed four young girls. Their church was bombed, their lives were ended, by racists attacking black people and the civil rights movement.

Nearly 45 years later, another group of young people assembled in the same church basement. Once again, young people combed their hair and checked themselves in the mirrors. On the first day of their Freedom Tour, the Chicago Children's Choir got ready to sing in the 16th Street Baptist Church.

At this concert, the pews of the church were filled with a mostly black audience. The people listening to the choir carried the history of their church in their hearts. Many had lived through the civil rights movement. Others had parents and grandparents who had been in the movement.

They listened as the choir sang "Murder on the Road in Alabama" and cried "Deep within the sovereign state of Alabama / There's a poison pit of hate." They listened to "Strange Fruit," the song made famous by Billie Holiday that mourned murdered black men hanging from southern trees. "Birmingham Sunday," a ballad of grief, recalled the events of that 1963 Sunday when four schoolgirls were killed and one maimed. (All of these songs are on the Chicago Children's Choir CD that accompanies this book, Songs on the Road to Freedom.)

Today the four young girls who died in the Birmingham church bombing are commemorated in a memorial that bears their photos. From left, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, Addie Mae Collins, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, are shown in these 1963 photos. Associated Press

The songs struck home. Sixteenth Street Baptist will forever be the church of four young girls killed by a Sunday morning bomb blast. In this very church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. In this very church, Monday night meetings of civil rights activists filled the air with song. Across the street, in the park, police set dogs on civil rights demonstrators, and powerful fire hoses knocked the demonstrators over like bowling pins.

On the July afternoon in 2007, music flowed through the 16th Street Baptist Church. The music wove a powerful connection between singers and audience, between past and present. As people listened, their hands reached up in the air, swaying in time to the songs. Then the audience rose, singing with the Chicago teens, "I need you. You need me. ... You are important to me. ... I love you, I need you to survive." They continued, closing the powerful afternoon arm in arm, singing "We Shall Overcome." In an electric moment, voices and hearts connected across the years, across the generations.

Then and Now: McComb, Mississippi

The U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s won huge victories. Despite those victories, racism continues. McComb, Mississippi, shows both the victories of the movement and the continuing struggle for civil rights.

In 1961, a teenager named Jackie Byrd knelt on the steps of the McComb courthouse. Young people in McComb had seized the civil rights movement as their own. The protests in McComb included attempts to integrate the public library, the Woolworth's lunch counter, and the Greyhound bus station. The movement in McComb included a Freedom School (in 1961 and again in 1964), and voter registration attempts at the nearby county seat of Magnolia. Freedom Schools taught adults to read and write, and to understand their rights under the Constitution.

The students who protested against segregation and prayed at the courthouse were jailed. More than 100 students were sent to jail. Then they were expelled from their high school for protesting. Jackie Byrd was among those who were expelled. They went to a black junior college in Jackson, Mississippi, for the rest of the school year.

Today Jackie Byrd Martin sits at a desk inside the same courthouse. She is the city's personnel director. The window of her office overlooks the steps where she and other young protesters prayed and were arrested over 45 years ago. The "whites only" sign is long gone from the water fountain across the hall. McComb's first black mayor was inaugurated in 2007. He held the ceremony on the courthouse steps.

McComb's population, about 12,000 in 1961, has grown little over the decades. The 2000 census showed 13,337 residents, about 58 percent of whom are black. Legal segregation has ended. That is a victory of the civil rights movement. Today black people hold positions in city government. That is a victory of the civil rights movement. McComb has come a long way since 1961.

But not everything has changed. In 2007, the schools in McComb and in nearby South Pike are at least 80 percent black. The schools in nearby North Pike are 80 percent white. A local Christian school is virtually all white.

As of this writing, McComb's tourist brochures still do not mention 1961 or the students or the civil rights movement. The pictures on the courthouse walls show only white folks and historical events from before the 1960s. The official City of McComb Web site (www.mccomb-ms.com) does not mention the civil rights movement. The unofficial McComb Web site (www.mccombms.com) includes a lengthy history page that describes railroads, oil, camellias, and azaleas — but not the civil rights movement.

Another site, McComb Legacies (www.mccomblega cies.org), tells the civil rights story of McComb. This site describes the city as "one of the main battlegrounds in the struggle for civil rights in the United States." McComb Legacies features oral histories from the civil rights era. The McComb Legacies Web site links to the official City of McComb site, but the official site does not link back. The contrasting sites show both the strength of the civil rights legacy and the continuing division between the races in the 21st century.

Jackie Byrd Martin is proud of McComb's civil rights legacy. She hands out brochures for a civil rights driving tour of McComb. She is working with McComb schools to create a model curriculum about the civil rights era. She hopes that curriculum will become a model for the entire state.

Her success shows the progress that McComb has made since the 1960s. The continuing school segregation shows how far the city still has to go. McComb is not so different from other cities, North and South. Success and struggle still live side by side. Quiet heroes like Jackie Byrd Martin continue the movement for freedom, equality, and justice.

Then and Now: Chicago

In the 1950s, racial segregation in the South was a matter of law. Discrimination against black people was not only allowed but legally required. This is called de jure segregation. De jure is a Latin phrase meaning "in law." At the time, Chicago, like most northern cities, was also segregated. But in the North segregation was usually not de jure but de facto — a term meaning "in fact." Under de facto segregation, the law did not actually call for racial discrimination, but many other practices kept segregation in place.

For example, in most northern cities, black people could only live in black neighborhoods, not because it was illegal for them to buy houses or rent apartments in white neighborhoods but because no one would sell or rent to them. Some homes were sold with restrictive covenants between buyer and seller. A restrictive covenant might say that the person who bought the home could not later sell it to black people. Some restrictive covenants said that the home could not be sold to Jews. In the 1950s, these covenants were enforced by law. Even without restrictive covenants, people discriminated. Real estate agents would only show black people homes in black neighborhoods. If a black family moved into a white neighborhood, they faced the wrath of neighbors.

Black people also faced job discrimination. Some employers would not hire them at all. Others would hire them but pay them less than white workers. Lower wages kept them in poverty. Chicago built housing projects for poor people. The projects were built in black neighborhoods, and crowded with up to 19 floors of apartments. Children played on tiny, tar-topped "tot lots" in between the buildings.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago in 1966. People in the civil rights movement had decided to bring the fight to the North. They recognized that discrimination was not just a southern problem. Racism lived in the North as well.

Dr. King's project was called the Chicago Freedom Movement. In the spring of 1966, Chicago Freedom Movement sent "testers" to try to buy houses. The testers were one white couple and one black couple. They were exact matches in income and family size and background. Real estate agents sent the black couple to black neighborhoods. They would not show the black couples homes in white neighborhoods.

Dr. King began to lead protest marches in white Chicago neighborhoods. Marchers were met by screaming mobs. Angry white people threw rocks and bricks and bottles. King received death threats. He said he experienced more hatred in Chicago than he ever did in Mississippi or Alabama.

In July 1966, some 50,000 people attended a civil rights rally at Chicago's Soldier Field. The rally was followed by a march to city hall, where King nailed 14 demands to the door. The demands included open housing and jobs and better schools.

In August, Mayor Richard J. Daley (whose son Richard M. Daley was elected mayor in 1989) agreed to meet with Dr. King's Chicago Freedom Movement. They reached agreement on actions the city would take, but the city did not live up to the agreements. However, in 1968 a national fair housing law was passed that ended restrictive covenants and outlawed discrimination in housing.

Despite this progress, housing segregation continues. A 2006 study showed that 30 percent of all public schools in Chicago were 100 percent African American. Almost half of the schools were 90 percent or more African American. The median income for African American households was only two-thirds of the median for white households. A higher percentage of African Americans were — and still are — among the working poor.

Fear keeps people apart, too. People of different races have little contact with one another. They rarely socialize. They hear stories about other races that are simply untrue. Because they have little contact, they often believe what they hear. People of all races experience this separation.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Robert Williams, a black Alabaman who was part of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, says that "everything has changed — and about 70 percent for the better." In 1969 or 1970, he says, "doors to the real world and corporate America opened for young black people."

For him, the civil rights movement ended in 1969, after the assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. "We lost too many people at one time," he says. "Vietnam had a lot to do with it, too. There was too much pain, too much struggle, and we didn't want our children to feel that."

The older generation protected their children from the pain and struggle. By doing so, they also lost a vital connection. "We thought our children would feel what we felt about the movement, and they don't," Williams reports, with regret. "They've missed that connection. ... This is all ancient history for our grandchildren."

Robert Williams brought his grandchildren to a concert on the Freedom Tour. He talked with the Chicago teens in the choir, telling stories of the movement. For him, the civil rights movement will always live. His stories and their songs brought the movement back to the Unitarian Church in Birmingham on a Sunday morning.

Birmingham's Unitarian Church is mostly white. Robert Williams is one of its few black members. (He jokes that his family cannot understand how a good Baptist could become a Unitarian.) This congregation has been committed to civil rights for over 50 years. The church was integrated back in the 1950s. It received bomb threats from time to time. The threats were frequent enough for the church secretary to develop a standard response. She would tell threatening callers that they would have to "stand in line."

David Baker is a white member of the church. He lived in Birmingham in 1961. He remembers when the city closed its parks. It chose to keep everyone out, rather than let black people in. He was active in opposing the closure.

Joe West, another white church member, returned to Birmingham in 1989. He says that today black people can work and live on a better basis than before — even if not on a completely equal basis. "There is still discrimination," he insists. "But there is discrimination throughout the country. Remember, women earn only two-thirds of what men earn. Black people are in the same kind of situation."

The civil rights movement was about justice. Black people were treated unjustly. They suffered discrimination in schools, jobs, housing, and more. The law allowed injustice. Sometimes the law was the injustice, ordering segregation and inequality.

The civil rights movement changed laws. The movement won victories. But the struggle for justice and equality continues.


Rooted in Africa

Children, run, you got a right You got a right to the tree of life

The music of the civil rights movement has many flavors. Some of the old spirituals sung by slaves in the South became part of the civil rights tradition. Jazz musicians composed music for the movement. Other civil rights music came from gospel songs. In the 21st century, some rap musicians contribute songs with messages of justice and equality. But all of these distinctively American musical forms — whether spirituals, gospel music, jazz, blues, soul, rock 'n' roll, rap, or hiphop — have their roots in Africa.

African rhythms and words and instruments came to North and South America with kidnapped Africans crowded in the bellies of slave ships. In the Americas, African music mixed with music of other places and peoples. After surviving slavery, the music of Africa became part of a rich stew of sound and song and dance.

The Music of Africa

In Africa, music was part of life. It flowed through daily routine as blood flows through the veins. Songs marked special events, from weddings to a child's first tooth. Warriors sang battle songs. People sang as they cooked or harvested or cared for children. Music did not belong to musicians. Music was not experienced as a performance with performers and audience — everyone sang, everyone danced, everyone made music.

And when they made music, they used many kinds of instruments. One African instrument was the djembe, a kind of drum. Another was the banjo. Gourds and sticks and tambourines also had their roots in Africa. Juba — using your body to make music — is also part of the African tradition. Singers clap, tap their feet, and slap their thighs to accompany their voices.

African music and European music are similar in many ways — they both use melody, harmony, and rhythm — but some of the rhythms sound quite different. African music is more polyrhythmic, which means that it emphasizes combinations of different rhythms. Syncopation — stressing a beat that is normally unstressed — is a characteristic African rhythm. Today syncopation is widely used in popular music.

Different areas of Africa have different kinds of music. Because most of the people sold into slavery came from the region of West Africa, African American music basically has West African roots. In West Africa, as in the country of South Africa (see chapter 7), much of the singing is a cappella. This means that people sing without instrumental accompaniment. Some West African singing is nasal, and uses shouts and groans and falsetto. A lot of South African music is choral, sung in four-part harmony.

Physical movement is an important part of both West African and South African music. Clapping hands and stamping feet add to music. Dancing is part of some songs. Some movements tell stories.


Excerpted from Freedom Song by Mary C. Turck. Copyright © 2009 Mary C. Turck. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Pete Seeger
The Civil Rights movement was the singingest movement I've ever known. . . . I'm not the only one who believes that songs may save this human race.
From the Publisher
"Unique focus . . . captivating . . . this informative and well-written book is an excellent addition to any collection."  —School Library Journal

"The Civil Rights movement was the singingest movement I've ever known. . . . I'm not the only one who believes that songs may save this human race."  —Pete Seeger

"For [children]—or for any adult who lived during the movement—this book is music to their eyes."  —New Pittsburgh Courier, Hudson Valley Parent, Madison Times, Santa Ynez Valley Journal, insightnews.com, Houston Style, Fairhope Courier, and Foley Onlooker

"An excellent book for research."  —abbylibrarian.com

"Great."  —Soujourners and sojo.net

"Provides a fresh perspective on the civil rights movement."  —Skipping Stones

"Plenty of interesting information . . . an attractive design."  —booklistonline.com

"It's hard to describe, in a few short paragraphs, all the goodness in Freedom Song . . . this book is music to [the] eyes."  —Bookworm Sez

Meet the Author

Mary C. Turck is the author of The Civil Rights Movement for Kids and Mexico & Central America: A Fiesta of Cultures, Crafts, and Activities. She is the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet and former editor of the award-winning Connection to the Americas.

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Freedom Song: Young Voices and the Struggle for Civil Rights 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Watches the camp
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*huff* Dark *Huff* Forest *huff huff* at da- *huff* at dark woods * huff huff huff* follow u guys not *huff* easy................. result 1 dark woods *Caughs* is dark forest u need to know r-*caugh*ight????????????
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*Watches Bluefire in amazement. Jumps on her thunder clouds to make it rain harder than hard. Spitfire helps.*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Silv padded on with Angel behind him. "Starting th fun already?" Silv asked with a dark laugh.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Her tail flicked. "We will consider your offer. Thank you." ((Glimmer, you're a leader right? If not, you are now.)) ~Summer
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Glimmer watch out some cat was hired by Storm to kill or catnap u do u no a cat named storm -a friend
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bye 'till Fool's day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You welcome. Wy did you need o know?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Someone wants u dead
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Watches* ~Robyn
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Starr came back in, holding a pup ((Please dont ignore me))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi im back and wheres dragon stables niw respond quick!!!!! -Skystar
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Super bunches.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Wow. I havn't been on in forever. And now I can't be on for another three days. See you guys soon!)~Snowtalon, Rush, Silver, Azure, Hayrlia, Ulsan, Faith
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Its all good) she helped lily.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Welcome to the club!" Nakita told Lily jokingly, laughing. She turned to Fallen Rose, sitting down. "So you train to handle conditions when animals are hurt? They have a Twoleg where my dad lived that did something like that, but instead og herbs they used funny-smelling water and strange sticks instead. Some of my dad's friends told me about their experiences sometimes when I dropped by. I think I prefer your method better." ((Yes, I'm coming to the new camp. Meet me there, okay? :-))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Sorry i was on vacay for couple a weeks no wifi. So whats been happening?)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this posting? ~•Glimmer•~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
((Okay, guys... I'm no longer RPing. I will visit sometimes, but rarely- so if I don't respond to you for a while, I'm not ignoring you- I just haven't read it. Please don't RP my characters, because when I visit, who would I be? :3 Wingfury: You've been very supportive of me both as a RPer and a writer. I hope you keep writing your wonderful stories and don't give up on them! They're amazing! Summer: I'm so glad I chose you as a leader. You've always had my back, and put the Freedom Chasers first. You were always so kind to everyone! Glimmer: I know at first Echo and Glimmer had a rocky start, but you persevered, and I'm so thankful you did! You're a great RPer and very caring! Echo can be a pain :3 but you saw past that! Pine (if he's here): You were a great lieutenant and a loyal member. You gave your position up so that Echo could keep on- that demonstrates tremendous character. I'm grateful you were here! All Other Freedom Chasers: You are all so loyal and friendly, and I'm so happy to know how succesful this group is! I hope you continue to grow and prosper. Stay strong, Freedom Chasers!)) ~Aeiro, Echo, & Wick
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She jumped on glimmer and sunk her claws into her stomach while sinking her unusually long fangs. Then she jumps off and picks up ever. She runs away and goes to poppet result two.