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Music Made The Civil Right Movement’s Identity

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Americans listen to music 4.5 hours per day, so this is almost 32 hours per week (McIntyre, par. 2). A lot of Americans listen to music for different reasons. Some people listen to music to concentrate better, to make them feel better, or to relieve pain. Music can work in plenty of ways, but one of the main reasons I listen to music is to find my identity. Different people use different genres to help them find their identity. Music does not just help people individually to discover their purpose, but it helps groups of people to realize their identity just like music did with the Civil Rights Movement protestors. During the Civil Rights Movement, music helped the protestors find their identity of motivation, encouragement, and positivity, so they can push for equal rights and not quit until they reach their goal.

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The civil rights movement was a struggle for social justice to eliminate inequality under the law in the United State of America. After the Civil War ended, slavery was abolished, but it did not end discrimination against African-Americans. Public restaurants, schools, and restrooms were still segregated. The government even segregated the water fountains. African-Americans continued to suffer the devastating effects of racism. During the Civil Rights movement, the protestors had a lot of prejudice and violence towards them. The protestors created an unprecedented fight for equality that spanned for twenty years. However, some people believe the fight for civil rights never ended because the Black Lives Matter movement shined a light on inequality again in the United States.

People might ask how music can help form black people’s identities and encourage and motivate people. Ulrik Volgsten argues, “Music can function as an identity marker. Music can be a sign of specific identities. In particular, this holds for collective group identities” (par. 10). This quote shows that music is the main identity marker, and it can also identify collective groups, even social groups. Music is so powerful because it is around us every single day. It influences a person without him or her recognizing it, and music definitely influenced the Civil Rights Movement.

The African-Americans used songs like “We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger, “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson to lay a foundation of motivation and encouragement for the black protestors as they went through this brutal time in American history. The article “Identity Through the Eyes of Music” states, “Songs… tend to embody tradition and it has served as a powerful cultural resource for nationalism since the 19th century” (Chukwuma, et al. par. 4). This shows how the African-Americans used a song to promote black pride. The protestors had to rally all the minorities, so they could end social injustice. Because of each song’s purpose, the movement’s identity was formed.

The first song that promoted the Civil Rights Movement’s identity was Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome.” This is known as the Civil Rights Movement’s anthem. Seeger performed the song for Martin Luther King Jr., and he loved it. The lyrics said, “We shall overcome.” These lyrics explain how the African-Americans were inspired to defeat inequality. “Shall” is in a future tense, so this shows they were inspired to overcome this tragedy no matter how long it took. This song is a great example of how blacks never quit until they got what they wanted. Then, the song says, “We’ll walk hand in hand.” “We’ll” represents the entire United States, so the black people believed someday the United States would be unified because the whole country would walk hand in hand someday. They hoped that all people would agree that inequality is terrible, and everyone should get an equal chance at everything in life.

In addition, “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke contributed to the movement’s identity. Cooke wrote this as a protest song to support the Civil Rights Movement, as black Americans fought for equality. Sam Cooke sings, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.” Blacks had been subjugated in the U.S. since the early 1600s and were belittled by whites when Cooke sat down and wrote this song thanks to racism. Cooke had a positive mind about this and believed that a day would come where white people and black people could coexist as equals in the world. As the song goes along, it says, “There been times when I thought I couldn’t last for long, but now I think I’m able to carry on.” Cooke endured some bad circumstances because of racism, but he had a sense of optimism. He mentioned that there were rough times when he did not believe that he would be able to live, but he still had hoped a change was going to come. He saw a world without any racism and segregation. This song definitely helped form the protestors identity because this helped encourage the African-Americans that one day everyone is going to be equal. Even though there were some times they wanted to quit, their identity of motivation pushed them through their tough times.

In the same way that Cooke’s song helped find the protesters identity, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamond Johnson did the same. Although this song was written in 1900, the song took on a new meaning during the Civil Rights Era. The song states, “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us. Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.” The message of the song is that African-Americans have gotten to where they were through centuries of hardship and disparity. The blacks will never forget what they went through but will also remember how far they came. Then, the song continues, “Stony the road we trod.” This lyric shows the rocky journey that the blacks had to face in the early 1900s, but it could be applied to the 1960s as well. Both the process of abolishing slavery and equal rights were not smooth and easy because freedom is not free. However, through these tough times, they continued to push forward until there were equal rights in the United States of America. The song shows their identity of optimism because the song talked about how the road would not be easy, but the motivation that the blacks had did not let them quit. They kept on pushing for equal rights like nothing was in their way.

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Because of the Civil Rights Movement’s identity, they were able to get equal rights and reach their goal. Songwriters and artists made these songs to form the movement’s identity. I can say that music makes the world is a better place because the songs are the main reason why the Civil Rights Movement was motivated. Now, a similar movement for black equality started called the Black Lives Matter movement. These protestors should follow the foundation that the 1960s movement did to gain motivation and encouragement to gain equality. Maybe, they can use the same songs that gave the Civil Rights Movement encouragement to carry on their mission. 

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