Music For Freedom

LandscapeFifty years ago, about 250,000 people – mostly black, but also white, Asian American, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American – gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate (protest or support) for civil rights. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was one of the largest political rallies (large pubic meeting) in American history and possibly the most important. Many people believe it was the reason Congress passed (officially accepted) important laws to protect civil rights (right to vote; be treated fairly) and voting rights.

Many things made that day memorable (easy to remember), beginning with Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. The rally was peaceful, which surprised many people, including President Kennedy. Americans from many races (main groups of people, like African Americans) and walks of life (position in society) came. John Lewis, one of the speakers, said that he scanned (looked quickly but carefully) the crowd before he spoke and marveled (was filled with amazement) at the diversity (many different types of people).

Music performed by a number of well-known musicians also played an important part in the rally. The music was mostly folk music – music of the people, music many of them knew and could sing. About half of the songs were spirituals, a kind of folk music created by African American slaves. Spirituals express (tell about) their religious beliefs, their experiences, and their desire for freedom.

Here are three songs you would have heard if you had been there. Listen to them, and let them take you back to that historic day for a few minutes. A note: they come from old black-and-white films – remember, this was 1963 – so the quality isn’t always the best.

Mahalia Jackson, known as The Queen of Gospel (kind of Christian music) – How I Got Over

This is a song about deliverance (being saved from danger). It’s difficult to understand the words, but this film clip gives you a wonderful sense (feeling) of what it was like to be at the rally. It begins with these words:

How I got over (was delivered),
How I got over,
You know my soul looks back and wonders (has trouble believing)
How I got over.

Joan BaezWe Shall Overcome

We Shall Overcome is a protest (against something that is wrong) song that became the unofficial anthem (main song) of the Civil Rights Movement. There’s no video for this song, but listen to the voices of the people in the audience.

We shall overcome (win the battle for civil rights),
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe we shall overcome, some day.

We’ll walk hand in hand…
We shall live in peace…
We shall all be free…
We are not afraid…

Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe we shall overcome, some day.

 Peter, Paul, and MaryIf I Had A Hammer

The popular song has a simple message: We have the tools we need for change – the hammer of justice (fair treatment for everyone), the bell of freedom, and the song of love – and we are going to succeed.

If I had a hammer / bell / song,
I’d hammer in the morning,
I’d hammer in the evening,
All over this land,
I’d hammer out danger,
I’d hammer out a warning,
I’d hammer out love between,
My brothers and my sisters, all over this land.

Well, I’ve got a hammer and I’ve got a bell
and I’ve got a song to sing all over this land.
It’s the hammer of justice,
It’s the bell of freedom,
It’s a song about love between my
brothers and my sisters, all over this land.

I don’t know about you, but I am moved (made to feel strong emotions) by these songs. They brought back a lot of memories for me. I hope they created some new ones for you.

Credit: These songs come from an article –The Music of the March on Washington – published by The New Yorker.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo of Peter, Paul, and Mary courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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21 Responses to Music For Freedom

  1. Dan says:

    Hey Warren,

    As I wrote the other day I followed the celebrations for the 50th of the march in Washington on the web.

    Since that was such a big event, the other day I asked Lucy why there were Conservatives giving speeches?
    There were three ex lefty presidents there Carter, Clinton, Obama.

    I remember that at the inauguration of the Bush library there were five ex presidents.
    Was the Bush library inauguration a more important event?

    How would you explain that to someone looking at the US from overseas?

    That is something that I did not understand at the time, while looking at the event.

    Hey, looking at the If I had a hammer video, it is just me, or at the time people were a lot thinner?
    What happened in this 50 years? i would say people stop marching and got lazy..ahahahahahaha, just kidding.

    Hey Warren,

    Starting Monday I am having three weeks vacation.
    My plan is to do N O T H I N G till the end of September.

    Thank you

  2. Dan says:


    There were NO Conservatives

    thank you

  3. Warren Ediger says:

    Dan – Some Republicans were invited, but I’m not sure how many. George H.W. Bush (older) was, but he is in very poor health; George W. Bush (younger) recently had heart problems and couldn’t go, but he did send a message to be read at the celebration. I know of a couple of others who were invited, but were unable to go because of schedule problems.

    The point of this post, of course, is to celebrate what happened 50 years ago and to enjoy the music that was a part of that great event.


  4. Warren Ediger says:

    Dan – I meant to add that some people have wondered why the organizers didn’t invite more.


  5. Dan says:

    Thank you Warren for your answer.

    And of course we only want to enjoy the music.

    Something I only recently discovered listening the covering of the event on the radio, was that the famous -I have a dream- speech
    is actually covered by copyright. That is why on the radio they always air only the first few sentences.

    Speaking of music, from the event I remember these three young girls singing the national anthem. That was good, beautiful and talented girls.

    I also liked Heather Headley’s performance, so beautiful woman and what a voice.

    I must say, that those three songs you posted move something inside. They are simple but powerful.
    And Mahalia Jackson’s voice! that goes straight to your soul. I felt like when I listen to the guitar of the late Mr. Michael Burk Iron man.

    Thank you.

  6. Dan says:

    Me again,

    Sorry, but as I was listening to once more the three songs, I want to add that I put in my first place the performance of Mahalia Jackson.

    About the other two I prefer the lyrics, but the powerful voice and the burning passion of Mahalia Jackson sent chills on my spine.

    Thanks again

  7. emiliano says:

    Just a pity dear Warren, I have a long note to post but the captcha code delete it by a mistake of me. Usually I copy it but something went wrong. I think it was nice but can´t remember was I said.

    Ye, it is really difficult to repeat something again so I have to think now what to say.

    Being a youn boy I lived all this and can remember everything quite well.
    I was funny when I saw it in the movie Forrest Gump with the music of that year, yes it is an incredible music what the movie has.

    Here in Spain, living with Franco students also use the song of Joan Baez “Whe shall over come” when they made the movements in the university. Along four or more years the pólice were inside the Complutense University of Madrid, and fight with the students every day.
    After May of 1968 it was a continuous fight here in the University City, as we all the Complutense Campus.

    It was a daily fight against the Dictator Franco and the pólice, the students sits on the floor and sing “We Shal Overcome” aloud.
    The Pólice enter into the Campus and hit them or took some to the pólice office and register the names.

    So yes, I coud remember the three song perfectly well and give me good memories of that years.

  8. emiliano says:

    I liked very much Joan Baez in those years, till the point I sent her a letter asking for the lyric of the songs. I was nice because she replied me and
    sent me a photo of her.
    Hippies were in the streets of San Francisco with flowers in their hands, like the song of Scott McKencie.
    Nice song, I bought the vinil for Cuca and me and have the song as one of ours.
    Mamas and the Papas, do you remember them?. Monday, monday and California Dreaming.

    Yes, I remember clearly those years, Kennedy Assesination, M.L.K. Speech, the March to Washington and also the Assesianted of him and the revolts
    and looting in L.A. when L.M.King was killed, and so many people killed in the South also the movie Burning Missipi of Alan Parked base on real
    events, either Betrayed movie of Costa Gravas not so good but with the same Racism theme.

    Warren those years are very clear in my mind because I met my dear Cuca and told her all things about your country and what it was happening
    over there.
    Some how I was at the left and very conscious, concern, about all these issues that was happening out my country.

    My best dear Warren, you always touch my heartstrings with several of your notes.


  9. emiliano says:

    Some times I would like to have the opportunity of correct all the mistakes we have done, but it is not
    What is eve worst is that I nearly can´t read the text as letters are so small that for me it is hard.
    So I write and don´t read any more what I have written, even this widows 8 does with the words what
    the software wants and change the letters.
    Yes it is tiresome and after posting the note I am ashamed by so great mistakes that could confuse
    other students.

    Sorry, sorry, dont trust my writing please, it is not O.K., such a pity.


  10. emiliano says:

    Hi Dan, I feel myselft as to saying something hard to see what happens.

    Ja, ja, it is funny and as I am like a devil, or a real instigate person some time.
    I would like to touch or provoke reactions…..but, not I am going to be polite.

    May be I am nervous waiting to see what happens in Buenos Aires.
    Will Madrid be the next Olympic City after Rio on 2020?.
    Today, this afternoon in B.Aires the chance will be for us Madrid or to Tokyo or Estambul.

    Being born in Madrid and living here I would like to have The Olympic Games here, in
    my city.

    So, I am crossing my fingers.

    Bye friends…..emiliano

  11. Dan says:

    Hey Emiliano,

    That annoyng thing used to happen to me as well. I am not sure, but it also depends by the browser.

    With Google Crome that does not happen. If you get the wrong code and go back, what you wrote is still there.

    I have also find out that when it takes long to you to write it is better to copy, recharge the webpage and after that paste what you wrote down.

    Hey, it is just me, or these codes are getting harder to read?

    Thank you Emiliano, it is always a pleasure reading from you, and sorry for my stupid comment I write sometime.


  12. Dan says:


    Reload and NOT Recharge

  13. emiliano says:

    No, Dan, you give life to the blog.
    Be sure about that, and it is true, some times I write too much.

    It could be because some comments of the other blog, gatufo´s, I
    like to put them here.

    Sorry. ja,ja………my finger are crossed ….till this night.

    I use to copy and paste because this very wrong way of deleting all
    the note if you have a mistake one the capcha Code, and you are
    right it looks horrible, some time I have to press twice or even more
    to read the letters. May be it is a security method agains attacks to
    the site.


  14. emiliano says:

    Congratulations to Tokyo, sure this city could do a wonderful Olympic Games.

    Just a Little sad, but that is the game.


  15. Betty says:

    Hello to Everyone! Hope you all are very well!

    Thank you very much indeed, Warren, for guiding us to this very important music appreciation.

    I remember listening to some of the songs when I was a lot younger. Peter, Paul and Mary’s song “If I have a Hammer” really bought back fond memories to me.

    Those were the days I started listening to western songs and enjoyed the music. Sometimes a foreign language is so mysterious that it is awe inspiring.

    I remember listening to them even when I hardly understood what they were singing. I simply followed them singing without knowing the meaning of the song.

    Now I get to know this song properly for the first time.

    Thank you again Warren, I am learning so much from your articles.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  16. Dan says:

    Hey Emiliano,

    I no longer watch the Olympics. I used to as a kid.

    Too much money involved, too many “middle men” involved sucking out from the system.

    And more important, I am convinced that sport is something one practices for him/herself, neither for others nor for making money.

    Too many cheaters, look at Armstrong and many others.

    Look at that soccer/football player Bale, bought by Real Madrid at 130 million dollar, moreover in a Country with record jobless rate like Spain.

    It is just me, or there is something crazy involved there.

    At the end, I do not really care, since I do not follow soccer/football and other sports.


  17. Tania says:

    Hi! I know nothing about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963.
    So, thank you very much for this lesson of history and music.
    In these “hard times” I think we should sing together again “We Shall Overcome” song.
    Thank you for the lyrics of the songs.

    Best wishes,


  18. emiliano says:

    Now I agree with you absolutely



    CHOCALA TIO……/Shake hands/ emiliano

  19. Lassana says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks Warren, good and historical topic !

    I think it was a very important moment of history.

    Moreover I think that people make the history.
    See people which struggle in order to have civil rights, it’s very beautiful and very strong !

    There were much famous people such as Martin Luther king, Abraham Licoln and other who had made the History. Through them, many nations had been freed of slavery and oppression.

    Music also is a very good manner to create union and solidarity between pepole. This is also a kind of universal language in the worldwide.

    Thanks to music. Thanks to all people which struggle all days for us, in order that we can keep our civil rights

    See you soon


  20. Betty says:

    Dear Warren

    I understand that you would like us to enjoy the music which are sung for freedom. However, I took this opportunity to listen to the famous speech “I Have A Dream” by Dr Martin Luther King.

    It’s a very powerful speech. At the end, he said he hoped one day all people and sing “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

    Are we human able to be “free at last” at all? We see troubles going up and then down, just to give room to another problem to rise.

    Lucy’s article last week “Own a Home for Just $1” tells us another problem that the modern Americans are experiencing nowadays.

    Will human be “free at last” at all?

    Life is too complicated!

    Many thanks again.


  21. Henrique says:

    Great topic Warren.

    This March certainly was a great momment to all American people and Martin Luther King’s speech was memorable.

    I like so much topics about the history of USA. I’m going to listen the songs, I’m sure they made this March even more memorable.

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