Show #14: CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT SONGS
with Tom Murray of SNCC (Show #1 of 2)
Full Audio & Transcript
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The following interview with Tom Murray of SNCC and Civil Rights Movement songs by the SNCC Freedom Singers, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Bob Dylan was broadcast August 10, 17 & 20, 1963 from New York City on worldwide short-wave radio. This historic radio interview was transmitted from the studios of Radio New York Worldwide on the show Folk Music Worldwide hosted by newsman Alan Wasser. This is show #1 of 2 with Civil Rights Songs and Tom Murray. The second interview can be found here.

Featuring SNCC Freedom Singers: "Freedom Is in the Air"; "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round"; Roy Wilkins' (head of the NAACP) testimony; Peter Paul & Mary: "Blowing in the Wind"; and Bob Dylan: "Blowing in the Wind". Transcript includes full song lyrics.

 

Listen to the Show speaker

 (25:07)

Transcript:

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): Here is Radio New York Folk Music Worldwide. A program devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world. Showcasing the top performers and authorities in the field. Now your host for Folk Music Worldwide, Alan Wasser.

ALAN WASSER (HOST): Hello again, and welcome to Folk Music Worldwide. Today's show is unusual in that we don't have an artist with us, a singer, we have an expert on a field. And we're going to be devoting the show to the field.

Every major crisis, every time people have fought for something they believed in, they've tended to use song as a support a means to increase their morale and organize themselves. These songs have become some of the best music in folk music. Right now in the United States there's another one of this type of crises going on as everyone knows all over the world.

Most Americans are fighting in order to see that all Americans can have the rights that we've been guaranteed under the Constitution and that most Americans have had until now. The struggle for equal rights for the Negro has produced some of the most beautiful of folk music.

Let me give you a sample, before we get into our interview, of this kind of music. This is a song called Freedom in the Air, it is sung by the Freedom Singers, who are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the people who've been running a number of these demonstrations.

[Song performance: Freedom in the Air - Freedom Singers]

Lyrics:

Over my head
I see freedom in the air
Over my head, oh Lord,
I see freedom in the air
Over my head
I see freedom in the air
There must be a God somewhere

Over my head
Over my head

I see glory in the air
I see glory in the air

Over my head.
Over my head.

I see glory in the air.
I see glory in the air.

Over my head.
Over my head.

I see glory in the air.
I see glory in the air.

There must be a God somewhere.
There must be a Lord, a God somewhere.

Oh Lord.

There must be a God somewhere.
There must be a Lord, a God somewhere.

[ end of music ]

ALAN: Freedom in the air, as sung by Freedom Singers, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Our guest today is Tom Murray. A field worker for, well "Snick" as it's called, SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Tom, can you tell us something about the Freedom Singers and about SNCC?

TOM MURRAY (FIELD WORKER OF SNCC, GUEST): Yeah, Al. The Freedom Singers themselves are four students, who have left school to work for various periods of time in the Movement.

Cordell Reagon left high school about four years ago and was among the original Freedom Riders. Rutha Harris and Bernice Johnson and Chuck Nebitt, who are the other three singers in the group, left school last year.

They were all working in Albany, Georgia, in the SNCC project down there, a voter registration project. And they were providing music for the mass meetings and for the demonstrations.

And it was felt that if they could go out and sing across the country and bring some of the music of the Movement to other parts of the country, and possibly bring some of the spirit of the Movement to the rest of the country.

So they've been singing now for about a year. They've had two concerts in Carnegie Hall here in New York, and are presently headed for the West Coast, California where there'll be until about Thanksgiving.

ALAN: Well now, how much response have they had to this music? Have they found that people all over the country have opened their hearts to the music of the Negro's integration movement?

TOM MURRAY: Well the response is different in different places. When the Freedom Singers sing in Albany or sing in Greenwood, there's a spirit within the whole group. It's almost like a family, with a purpose, as you said, to unite the people in their struggle.

When they sing in the North, there's a great response from the northern audiences because they know what's happening in the South to an extent, and they can sympathize if not fully emphasize with what is happening there. I think that there has been overall a great response to it.

ALAN: Can you tell us something about SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee? Obviously this does not just run singing groups.

TOM MURRAY: No, this is a small aside. In fact I was talking to the Freedom Singers the other day and the majority of them are very anxious to get back to the real work of SNCC in the South.

We grew out of the freedom rides, I'm sorry, out of the sit-ins back in '60. In spring of '60 group of the sit-in leaders got together and it was felt that there was a need for coordination among the various protest centers that have grown up across the South. Out of this meeting came The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

And then came the Freedom Rides and SNCC was coordinating efforts on this level. After the Freedom Rides, the President had made a request for civil rights groups to devote themselves to voter registration in the areas where there were working.

Since SNCC had been working in rural areas we went into voter registration in the real, tough core rural areas of the deep South. In terms of the voter registration and direct action in such places as Albany, Georgia, Greenwood, Mississippi, Macomb, Mississippi, Gadsden, Alabama. Small towns such as this, real rural areas.

ALAN: Now, I see on the Freedom Singers album, the song called "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round", which is an old favorite of mine. Can you tell us something about background on that song?

TOM MURRAY: Freedom songs come from various areas. They come from various traditions. There are many rich traditions that the Negros in the struggle have had to draw upon, Rock and Roll, Negro spirituals, African songs.

All of these have contributed. "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round" has come from a spiritual but I think to understand it in context, if I could paint a picture of a church, probably a Negro Baptist Church in, say, Albany Georgia.

And the people have been encouraged to go out for demonstrations, possibly that evening, possibly the next day. One of the ministers rises to the platform and he stands there and he begins to sing.

[Song performance: Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round - Freedom Singers]

Lyrics:

Ain't gonna let nobody, Lordy, turn me round
Turn me round, turn me round
Ain't gonna let nobody, Lordy, turn me round
I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', Lord, keep on a-talkin' Lord
Marchin' up to freedom land

Ain't gonna let Chief Pritchett, Lordy, turn me round,
Turn me round, turn me round,
Ain't gonna let Chief Pritchett, Lordy, turn me round,
I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', Lord, keep on a-talkin', Lord,
Marching up to freedom land.

Ain't gonna let no City Commission, Lordy, turn me round,
Turn me round, turn me round,
Ain't gonna let City Commission, Lordy, turn me round,
I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', Lord, keep on a-talkin', Lord,
Marching up to freedom land.

Ain't gonna let no injunction, Lordy, turn me round,
Turn me round, turn me round,
Ain't gonna let no injunction, Lordy, turn me round,
I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', Lord, keep on a-talkin', Lord,
Marching up to freedom land.

Ain't gonna let nobody, Lordy, turn me round
Turn me around, turn me around
Ain't gonna let nobody, Lordy turn me around
I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', Lord, keep on a-talkin' Lord
Marching up to freedom land.

[ end of music ]

ALAN: "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round" as done by the Freedom Singers. That clergyman you mentioned Tom, was Roy Abernathy Ralph Abernathy - wasn't he?

TOM MURRAY: Ralph Abernathy, from Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Of course that wasn't Ralph in the song, it was Cordell Reagon who led the song.

ALAN: Well, we'll be back with more songs of the integration movement, in just a moment.

[ pause for commercial break ]

All right, this is Alan Wasser again back at Folk Music Worldwide. We'll have some more of the integration movement music in just a second, but before we do, let me just come out with an idea I've been thinking about for a while. I know a lot of you come from areas that are very rich in folk music. Music we can't get a hold of on record here in New York.

And if any of you, oh, especially down in West Indies, for instance, or in England, or in Ireland or anywhere else have local folk singers who you think are pretty good. Why don't you send us in some tapes, that have to be 7 1/2 inches per second, single track, but tapes that we could use on Folk Music Worldwide.

Maybe, if we can get enough of them we'll put together the whole show out of songs from the areas that our listeners have sent in. Songs from your own areas, Just little people, people who haven't had big recording dates and had big records put out for them.

Well, let's get back to our music from the southern Negro integration movement. Let me just play a tape here that I took from the ABC Radio Network. Some of you may have heard it. It was used on a program called Flare, that we played on Radio New York Worldwide in its regularly scheduled time, but I thought this was so good. I took it out, I've edited a little bit, and I wanted to use it here.

What it is actually is some testimony that Roy Wilkins, the head of the NAACP, another Negro organization gave to the Senate Commerce Committee. Put together with a very popular song now, a song which came out of the integration movement but which is now one of the top songs in the country.

CHARLES OSGOOD: Testifying in Washington, the NAACP's Roy Wilkins raised some questions which are echoed in a haunting song now popular across the country. This is what Mr. Wilkins said:

ROY WILKINS (HEAD OF NAACP): I invite members of this Committee to imagine themselves darker in color and to plan an auto trip from Norfolk, Virginia to the gulf coast of Mississippi, say, to Biloxi. Or one from Terre Haute, Indiana, to Charleston, South Carolina, or from Jacksonville, Florida to Tyler, Texas.

[Song performance: Blowing in the Wind - Peter, Paul and Mary]

Lyrics:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before they call him a man

ROY WILKINS: How far do you drive each day? Where and under what conditions can you and your family eat? Where can they use a rest room? Can you stop driving after a reasonable day behind the wheel or must you drive until you reach a city where relatives or friends will accommodate you and yours for the night?

How many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free

ROY WILKINS: Will your children be denied a soft drink or an ice cream cone because they are not white?

How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see

ROY WILKINS: You take your chances, you drive and you drive and you drive. You don't stop where there's a vacancy sign out at motel at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and rest yourself. You keep on driving until the next city or the next town where you know somebody or they know somebody, who knows somebody, who can take care of you. How do you figure these things out? The answer is you don't figure them out.

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind

[ end of music ]

ALAN: That isn't what we normally play. We usually stick to just straight music on Folk Music Worldwide but I thought this was such a beautiful use of folk music. This is what it's designed for, really, I just thought you had to hear this in this kind of a show.

That song, Tom, was written originally by Bobby Dylan wasn't it? Not by Peter, Paul and Mary?

TOM MURRAY: No, that was written by Bob a while ago. Bobby, while he has only made one trip to the South, that one fairly recently has long been deeply concerned about the struggle for civil rights in this country.

And has written some very beautiful and some very powerful songs about the struggle for civil rights. This particular one, "Blowin' in the Wind", I think, is one of the best that he has done. A very powerful song with a message.

ALAN: This is, I think, very typical of so many people. You and I, I knhow, have both been on Freedom Rides, but so many people in the North, believe so deeply in what's being done, I think most people in the United States believe in what's being done, but can't get a chance to participate actively in something like a Freedom Ride. And yet they try to do something in their own communities, just a little bit.

We've heard a bit of the Peter, Paul and Mary version, the one that is now popular all across the country. We happen to have a recording of Bobby Dylan, the actual author doing "Blowin' in the Wind" and perhaps our listener would like to hear it before we run out of time.

[Song performance: Blowin' in the Wind - Bob Dylan]

Lyrics:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand
Yes and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they are forever banned
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

Yes and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea
Yes and how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free
Yes and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

Yes and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
Yes and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

[ end of music ]

ALAN: Bobby Dylan doing his rendition of the song he wrote, and that Peter, Paul and Mary made famous, "Blowin' in the Wind".

Tom, we're getting very short on time again. This show is being pre-recorded so I don't have to ask you to come in again next week. But do you have time to stay around and record another show that we can use right after this one?

TOM MURRAY: I'd be very happy to.

ALAN: If you can come back, next week, listeners, I think you'll enjoy it. We'll do some more of these songs from the integration movement down South.

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): This has been Folk Music Worldwide. Devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world. Spotlighting top performers and authorities in the field. If you have any suggestions, requests or comments, why not write in to: Folk Music Worldwide, Radio New York, WRUL New York City, 19 USA.

This has been a Music Worldwide presentation of Radio New York Worldwide.

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