Music & the Movement

Research and study of the use of folk music and freedom songs as a strategy in the Civil Rights Movement

Music played a key role in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Specifically, freedom songs and folk music created as a form of activism were crucial in the fight for African American political, economic, and social equality. Freedom and folk music in the context of the Civil Rights Movement is music that was created to express the struggle of African Americans desiring equality in America. These same ideas were also reflected through the format of folk music. Music is a highly documented and preserved medium and there were many key musicians involved in the creation, use, and distribution of song. This emphasizes the importance of music in the movement and the need for and accessibility of studying this strategy of activism. Music is a key form of non-violent resistance in a movement that is associated with leaders who focused on peaceful forms of speaking out. Freedom songs and folk music were immensely important to the Civil Rights Movement because it enabled the most effective communication and brought individuals together in a powerful form of non-violent resistance.

Overall, music was an extremely important part of the Civil Rights Movement. Music was strengthening for the creators and the users and was influential because it was understandable and powerful for the people listening. Bernice Reagon Johnson, an important musical collaborator during the movement once expressed that she did not think the Civil Rights Movement could have progressed successfully or at all without the use of music.[1] Without establishing a strong sense of community or being able to communicate as efficiently as music allows, the movement would most likely have missed a beat and fallen short.


[1] Kerran L Sanger, “When the Spirit Says Sing!”: The Role of Freedom Songs in the Civil Rights Movement, (Garland Studies in American Popular History and Culture. New York: Garland, 1995), 17.