Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Four Little Girls and Two Songs

On September 15, 1963, four Birmingham, Alabama girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, lost their lives during the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  In 2011, a marker was finally dedicated in their names at the site of the vicious, racially motivated, murderous attack.

Just three months after the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, and two weeks after the March on Washington and Dr. King’s momentum-building “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, the Alabama tragedy became the pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement. Singer Nina Simone wrote “Mississippi Goddam” in immediate response to hearing the news: “I shut myself up in a room and that song happened,” she said of the song that begins, “Alabama’s got me so upset.” From that moment forward, Simone was committed to writing and performing material that would jolt people awake or into action.  It remains her most enduring work.

Joan Baez had of course walked alongside Dr. King at the marches in the South all along; her tribute was a recording of “Birmingham Sunday” by her brother-in-law, the writer Richard Fariña.  Each girl was remembered by name in the verses, set to the tune of a beautiful folk melody. Fifty-plus years on, both songs remain painful reminders of the brutalities waged by so-called humanity, here and yonder, year in and year out, against women, girls and Black lives.

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Origin of Song, Protest Songs, racism, , , , , , , , , ,

The King of Love

“Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right,” said Dr. King in his final speech, delivered on April 3 to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

The following day, April 4, the civil rights leader, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and beloved hero to millions around the world, was shot to death on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

Fifty years later, the work of non-violent protest in the name of desegregation, voting rights, racial harmony, jobs, freedom, opportunity, and an end to wars, is carried on by an international community of civil rights advocates and human rights and anti-war activists. Here in the US, in this fiftieth year since the assassination, we have perhaps more than ever felt the effects of the long term absence of a movement leader the likes of Dr. King. The world remembered him today. But what of the other 364 days of the year? If only we heard the kind of programming we heard all day today during the rest of the year…

Among the musical tributes in response to the tragedy were Dion’s popular “Abraham, Martin and John,” Otis Spann’s less-known “Blues for Martin Luther King,” and Nina Simone’s version of the enduring and emotional “Why (The King of Love is Dead),” first performed in his memory on April 7, 1968, the national day of mourning following the assassination.

For further reflection on Dr. King’s message of love, please start with the The King Center archives, dedicated to the non-violent eradication of poverty, racism and violence.

 

Filed under: anti-war, Arts and Culture, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., , , , , , , , , ,

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