Art & Culture in the Movement

Learning Toolkit Resources


Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around

SNCC Freedom Singers

Ella’s Song

Resistance Revival Chorus

Engage the Sources: Oral History Interviews

Read these excerpts of two oral history interviews—with Bernice Johnson Reagon and Worth Long. They analyze SNCC’s use of singing through the lens of participant and cultural worker.

Worth Long Interview with Molly McGhee

Bernice Johnson Reagon, Eyes on the Prize Interview

According to Worth Long and Bernice Johnson Reagon:
1. What is the relationship between the Movement, freedom songs, mass meetings, and traditional Black culture?
2. What are some of the ways organizers used singing in the Movement?
3. How did singing help in the face of white intimidation and fear?

Bernice Johnson Reagon “Oh Freedom-The Music of the Movement”

Start by watching min. 33:20-43:40. In this excerpt from a 1988 presentation at Trinity College, Reagon led several songs and played a clip from the Movement that illustrated the power of the movement singing. She explained that people who were risking their lives couldn’t worry about what their voices sounded like; they had to sing at full power to feel and show their strength.

1. Compare the 1988 singing at the Trinity gathering with the movement-era recording Bernice Johnson Reagon played. What do you think accounts for the difference in intensity? How does she explain it?

2. What does Reagon say about the relationship between organizing and singing with full power?

Pt F “Oh Freedom: the Music of the Movement,” We Shall Not Be Moved Conference, 1988, Trinity College.

Activity: Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement

Lyrics from “Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement,” [1963], Civil Rights Movement Veterans Archive.

Worth Long, Charles Neblett & Bettie Mae Fikes “The Right Song at the Right Time”

In “The Right Song at the Right Time,” SNCC songleaders Charles Neblett and Bettie Mae Fikes talked with Worth Long about the importance of selecting the right song for the moment, an important skill for SNCC organizers. Hear more of this group of SNCC veterans’ conversation about music and the Movement in the Singing & Music feature in the Our Voices section.

More Resources & Activities

Freedom Concert

SNCC 50th Anniversary

Bernice Johnson Reagon

SNCC 50th Anniversary

Emilye Crosby and Worth Long, “Outsinging Trouble,” SNCC Legacy Project.

Works Cited

Barnwell, Ysaye M., J. David Moore, and Catherine Roma. Continuum: The First Songbook of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Contemporary Acappella Publishing, 1999.

Block, Sam. Interviewed by Joseph Sinsheimer, Dec. 12, 1986. Joseph A. Sinsheimer Papers, Duke University.

Brown, Joyce. “The House of Liberty.” in Freedom School Poetry. Civil Rights Movement Archive.

Cobb, Charles E. “Prospectus for Summer Freedom School Program in Mississippi,” Dec. 1963. Harry J. Bowie Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.

Cox, Courtland and Jennifer Lawson. “Us Colored People.” Lowcountry Digital Archive. Cleveland Sellers Papers, Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston.

Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Right in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

“Eyes on the Prize; Interview with Frederick Leonard.” 1985-11-03. Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC.

Field, Connie, et al. Freedom on My Mind. San Francisco, Calif: California Newsreel [distributor], 2004.

“Free Southern Theater Presents,” undated. Judy Richardson Papers, Duke University.

Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn, ed. A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Hamer, Fanny Lou with Maria Varela. To Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiography of Mrs. Fanny Lou Hamer. “Black Pride,” In Learning From Experience. SNCC Digital Gateway, SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University.

Handbill: The Freedom Singers Sing of Freedom Now!/We Shall Overcome, undated. Social Action Vertical File, Wisconsin Historical Society.

Hughes, Langston. “Foreword,” in Freedom School Poetry, comp. by Nancy Cooper. Atlanta, GA: SNCC, 1965 [c1966].

McGehee, Molly, “You Do Not Own What You Cannot Control: Interview with Worth Long,” Mississippi Folklife 31, no. 1 (Fall 1998).

Moses, Robert. Interview with Julian Bond. Feb. 25, 2014. Explorations in Black Leadership. Miller Center of Public Affairs. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.

Reagon, Bernice Johnson. “Ella’s Song.” Performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock. Breaths. 1988.

Reagon, Bernice Johnson, Eyes on the Prize Interview, in The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle, 1954-1990, edited by Clayborne Carson, et al., 143-145. New York: Viking, 1991.

Sherrod, Charles, quoted in The Making of Black Revolutionaries. By James Forman. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

“SNCC Culture,” SNCC Digital Gateway, SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University.

SNCC, Survey: Current Field Work, Spring 1963, CRMVet, Cordell Reagon. SNCC Digital Gateway, SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University.

Varela, Maria. Something of Our Own. Jackson, Mississippi: H.J.K. Publishing Co., 1965. “Books That Were Cherished,” In Learning from Experience. SNCC Digital Gateway, SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University.

Understanding a Community,” In Roots of Organizing. SNCC Digital Gateway, SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University.