Taking Songs & Adapting Them

Bringing People Together

Spreading the Word

Facing Jail, Facing Fear

Taking Songs & Adapting Them

Songs & Their Stories

Freedom songs grew and changed to fit the needs of particular people, times, and places. Here Bettie Mae Fikes talks about how she started singing her version of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Bettie Mae Fikes “The Movement Got Into Me”

Adapting songs was a tradition that Highlander helped keep alive. As Candie Carawan explained, it was about “taking a well-known song, just like Bettie Mae, bringing it up to date in a contemporary situation.” This tradition stretched back to the labor movement of the 1930s and earlier.

Candie Carawan “Taking Something Known and Adapting It”

Dona Richards, Euvester Simpson, Gwen Gillon sing on the Forrest County courthouse steps on Freedom Day, January 22, 1964, Danny Lyon, Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement 134, dektol.wordpress.com

Coming from a Black southern church tradition, Hollis Watkins learned that the purpose of singing was to make people feel good. Changing the words of songs already doing that, such as spirituals, helped shift their focus to things that the Movement was working to change.

Hollis Watkins “To Make People Feel Good”

Freedom songs could be old songs adapted to fit contemporary circumstances or new songs written out of the movement experience.

Charles Neblett “How Do Freedom Songs Come Into Existence”

A freedom song reaches out and takes down the barriers and builds up that spirit, attitude, faith, confidence in someone else. Then that automatically creates a bond between the singer and the one that initially starts out listening.” –Hollis Watkins

Hollis Watkins “What Is A Freedom Song”

Songs & Their Stories