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Songs of Protest from Smithsonian Folkways

The music of the modern Civil Rights Movement came from many sources. In southern black communities, everyone knew the spirituals that had been passed down from the enslaved generations. Young and old also knew the Protestant hymns sung in church. Labor activists and strikers contributed songs from previous workers’ struggles. When college students began to lead, they added tunes from the radio and popular music on records. People of different generations and perspectives adapted these melodies and improvised lyrics to create a body of new songs from a mixture of sources. In non-violent resistance training sessions at places such as the Highlander Folk Center (Tennessee), activists learned these new songs which they taught to others at demonstrations, sit–ins, and marches. Eventually, these songs became the anthems of the Freedom Movement throughout this nation and around the world. Sounds of America is in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History