Music of the Civil Rights Movement

Students hear the music behind equal rights.

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

During the 1960s, The Freedom Singers traveled more than 50,000 miles to perform at civil rights campaigns. Their music provided inspiration to an oppressed minority seeking equal rights in their own country.

The music that inspired and drove the fight for civil rights was the focus of a workshop and musical event at the White House this month. In celebration of Black History Month, the White House held a workshop with high school students, led by Robert Santelli, the executive director of the Grammy Museum.

The February 9 afternoon event was followed by an evening of music in the White House that was later broadcast on PBS stations and radios. Called "The Music Behind the Civil Rights Movement," the event featured actor Morgan Freeman as emcee.

"The music became a part of everything," Freeman said in his opening remarks. "You couldn't tell who was a singer or who was the organizer, because the organizer sang and the singer organized."  

That was certainly true for Bernice Johnson Reagon of The Freedom Singers. She talked about how many times she must have sang "This Little Light of Mine" before she understood its true meaning. That realization came to her during a protest in Albany, Georgia, in 1961. She was arrested and jailed for her participation.

"It was when they locked me up that I really understood that song," she told the 100 high school students in the workshop. "It [the song] was saying 'I'm not hiding. I have a light and I'm going to use it to bring about justice.'"

The workshop stressed the connection to the church and Gospel Music, Santilli told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

"It allowed students to participate in a workshop with some of the artists who created the original music performed," Santili said. The workshop included performances by the Blind Boys of Alabama, The Freedom Singers, and Smokey Robinson.

The evening performance included Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Yolanda Adams, Joan Baez, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Natalie Cole, the Freedom Singers, and John Mellencamp.

You can see a video of the workshop and its performances on the White House website.

Celebrate Black History Month

For more on the achievements and contributions of African Americans to U.S. History, return to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Black History Month Special Report.

News for Kids, by Kids

Get the latest on national and international events, movies, television, music, sports, and more from the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

  • Subjects:
    Composers and Musicians, African American

Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of 32 student reporters who report "news for kids, by kids." Sports, politics, and entertainment are among the topics they cover.