• 68°

Songs have many meanings

The songs were so beautiful, so moving, so powerful.

Until I heard the original SNCC Freedom Singers, I had forgotten how beautiful, how moving, how powerful.

I was sitting with a large crowd at the C.H.A.T. Academy, formerly the R. B. Hudson High School.

It was one of many events comprising the Bridge Crossing Jubilee/National Voting Rights Celebration.

We had just finished eating a tasty breakfast and watching a deeply moving video.

I thought, “It does not get much better than this.”

I did not count on the SNCC Freedom Singers.

The beautiful voice of Rutha Mae Harris mystically lifted the words of “Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.”

I could feel the power.

I could feel the choice of freedom.

I was deeply moved.

Then the powerful voices of Emory Harris, (Rutha’s brother), Betty Fikes and Chuck Niblett joined in.

Each voice was so different, so distinct but so perfectly blended in harmony and beauty.

It was like several voices becoming one voice.

The voices were one thing, the words another.

The words of this song lifted a vision of freedom.

They demanded that we focus on freedom from the moment we wake up and continue through every waking hour.

They say freedom is worth working for.

They say freedom is worth dying for.

The SNCC Freedom Singers finished and headed for their seats as the crowd rose in unison, clapping vigorously and continuously.

Then one lonely but well-known voice rose above the thunderous clapping with the words “more! more! more!”

Other voices immediately joined in until the chant, “more! more! more!” rose as one irresistible wave.

Soon Betty Fikes voice rose up, bearing the words, “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on.”

The voice was so beautiful and touching and lonely.

Then the voices of Chuck, Rutha and Emory joined in, intertwining each to the other, becoming one.

Eventually all our voices joined in, but I could still hear the Freedom Singers, so distinct, so clear, so commanding.

The Freedom Singers performed other songs at other events such as O’Freedom which says, “Before I be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave.”

They sang, “I won’t turn back,” several times.

Each song lifted freedom just as it had done in the sixties.

After hearing the songs, my eyes and heart were focused on freedom.

I was holding on with everything in me.

No matter what, I would not turn back.

I knew in my soul that I would not be diverted from the central goal of freedom.

I will not allow criticism to divert me.

Neither will suffering.

Neither will fear.

Even impending death will not divert me.

That’s the power of song in struggle.

Singing helps us get through pain, rejection, oppression and all kinds of struggle.

Singing helps us overcome fear and tap the spirit of survival that lies deep within.

The power of singing during struggle was never clearer to me than at this moment.

When we sing even though we have been beaten down, some think we are singing because we are happy.

We sang in slavery, but we were not happy.

We sing in prison, but we are not happy.

We sing as we go off to war to face death, but we are not happy. Singing just helps us get through the struggles of this moment, this day.

These freedom songs took me back to the fifties and even the forties when poverty, racism and other oppressive forces weighed so heavily I did not think I could go on.

Since I could not sing, I would get off to myself where no one could hear me and sing “That’s alright, that’s alright, that’s alright, just since I know I got a seat in the kingdom.”

Even after my bad singing, the load would lift, allowing me to make it through another day.

All through the Civil Rights Movement, we sang.

The odds were greatly against us, but we sang.

Threats of loss were all about us, but we sang.

When suffering was upon us, we sang.

When fear filled the moment, we sang.

Even when death drew near, we sang.

Singing is part and parcel of how we made it over in the Voting Rights Struggle.

It’s why I not only enjoy the SNCC Freedom Singers, but appreciate the power they infuse in us to overcome difficult challenges.

And they make the Bridge Crossing Jubilee even more wonderful.