Black History Month: Songs of Protest

February 10, 2010

February is Black History Month, and this week marks the 50th anniversary of the start of non-violent sit-ins designed to desegregate Nashville, Tennessee, department store lunch counters. The student sit-ins and the arrival of Freedom Rider buses from the North (February 13, 1960) launched a chain of events which are detailed in a timeline on the General Board of Discipleship's (GBOD) Worship website.

There were demonstrations, buses, beatings, arrests, jail sentences, speeches, and marches – but there also were prayers and singing from the jail cells.
During the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, including those in Nashville, demonstrators often invented and sang songs in the moment that fit the occasion. You'll find two excellent examples on GBOD's Worship website:
·         "The Busses Are a-Comin'"
          In a television interview in Nashville on February 7, 2010, discussing the student protests, beatings, arrests, and jail sentences, one of those arrested – former freedom rider Kwame Leo Lillard – said that he and others began singing this song while in jail. It warns the jailers that more buses, more freedom riders, more students, and more demonstrators are coming, and that they had better get ready because, "We're gonna keep on coming." It was adapted to the tune of the Christmas Spiritual, "Mary Had a Baby." This is the first publication of this song.
          Another song that spontaneously sprang from the Civil Rights movement. Wherever students and leaders protested, they marched, sang, and demonstrated against segregation regardless of the risks, and many went to jail. Other verses were improvised to include "march," "sing," "shout," "vote," and "pray." This is the first publication of this song.
Learn more at GBOD's Worship website,, and at