A Change is Gonna Come

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The instant I pressed publish on my contribution (When You Feel Like Darkness Has You Bound) to this week’s Song Lyric Sunday challenge, I had the urge to also find a protest song.

A Change is Gonna Come, was released by Sam Cooke in 1964. It became an anthem for the Civil Rights movement. When I listened to the song and watched the video that went with it, I knew I had found my protest song. The video has photos from the 50’s to the present. By the end of viewing it, I was crying.

The lyrics are on the video but I will also include them here:

It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knocking me
Back down on my knees

Ohhhhhhhhh…

There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

 

We Shall Overcome

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Ever since I learned about Song Lyric Sunday, songs from my past have been going through my mind. My 67 years of life has had so many phases and the music that is dear to me reflects all the different paths I have walked.

As I contemplated what song to use this week, I realized I wanted it to relate both to my life in the past and the present. What song could do that better than Pete Seeger’s version of We Shall Overcome.  As I read the words and listened to the video I chose to accompany it, I began to cry.

There were so many levels to my tears. I grew up during the struggle for civil rights and in a lot of ways that movement created the me I am today. As I looked at the photographs that are on the video below, my mind flooded with my own memories. Some of my tears were from remembering what this country was like before the push for civil rights, and feeling touched by how far we have come.

At the same time, the events of this past week (and many weeks/months/years before it) make it evident that we still have a long way to go. Therefore, another part of my tears were due to despair arising from the recent killings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas and the overwhelm of not knowing if, when or how we will make the violence stop. When will we (humans) learn to live with love and respect for all beings?

No one knows for sure who wrote We Shall Overcome. There is some new evidence that it may have originally been a gospel hymn composed between 1932 and 1942. The lyrics have changed over the years. The song as I know it became associated with the Civil Rights movement in 1959 and was soon considered its unofficial anthem.  (Wikipedia)

 

We Shall Overcome Lyrics

We shall overcome,
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’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart…

We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart…

The whole wide world around,
The whole wide world around,
The whole wide world around, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart…

We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid, TODAY.

Oh, deep in my heart…

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.

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

 

While my faith is a bit shaken right now, as I listen to the music, I know that this is my truth.

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

 

 

Memories of the 60’s

My friend Kathie from chosenperspectives published a YouTube video today that really moved me.  I thought I would share it with you.

(If the video doesn’t come up you can find it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-0NvkuPHZI)

I felt some sadness as I listened to the song, because these last eight years have shown how much work we still have to do in regards to racial relations.  At the same time, I know the words are as true now as they were when it was recorded.

In another post published today, Kathie also shared personal memories of what she was doing during the Civil Rights period and on the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated.  Check out her post at In Honor of Dr. King.  I think you will be glad you did.

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #4 (Working in South Carolina)

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After leaving Fort Valley, Georgia we drove to Greenville, South Carolina, but found no job there. We then drove about ten miles north and started asking people if they knew of any migrant camps. The first farmer we were directed to said his was an all-black camp and he wasn’t about to mix races; but, he gave us another name.

We followed his advice and went to the business he suggested. The owner was quite amused by us and willingly gave us a job. In fact, he let us work two hours that very afternoon.

The job issue was settled, but where would we stay? There were two crews; one black and one white. The white crew was comprised of single men. Mr. Robinson said we couldn’t stay with them, and we agreed with his decision. We had seen that the black camp had families, so we asked to stay there. He said we “wouldn’t last fifteen minutes in that camp.” I asked how that could be since there were so many children. The owner looked perplexed and told us that there were no children there. Then he thought for a moment and said, “Oh you mean the ‘n…..s’.” To him black children didn’t even qualify as “children.”  I was outraged but knew it wasn’t safe to express my feelings and thoughts.

His solution to the lodging issue was to give us a cattle truck to sleep in. One night of that and we swore we’d never do it again, and meant it. The next day, we picked peaches for the whole day and earned $3.75 each. We knew we would have to wait at the packing shed for about two hours to get paid, so we decided to walk to the black camp to check it out for ourselves.

When we entered the camp, we talked to some of the people who were gathered. They had a bus, so we asked if we could sleep in it. They introduced us to Leroy, the black crew boss. He said it would be fine for us to stay in their bus.  Later he told us they would be willing to set up beds in their kitchen for us.

With some hesitation, we decided to stay in the camp. The job paid so little, there didn’t seem any point to worrying about being fired when the owner found out we had disobeyed him. We had another reason for concern, however. We had been told before that the white people wouldn’t bother us for the things we did, but that they might take it out on the black workers. We talked to Leroy about our concern. He said our actions would not cause them any trouble, so we moved in.

We made dinner and then everyone wanted Brenda to play the guitar so we could sing. We sat on the car with the kids and sang for hours.

Singing with kids

 

We went to bed about 10 pm and then the night began. The black crew’s kitchen was in the same building that the white crew lived in. What separated the two rooms was a partial wall with a bit of screening above that. The white men were drinking and pretty soon were quite drunk. There was a lot of daring and betting going on and it really scared us. “They want to see what a migrant camp is like? Let’s show them what a migrant camp is like.” We had a few visitors that night, but were able to get them to leave by talking fast and shaming them. Luckily for us, they were mostly talkers, and a few of them were on our side. By 2:00 am they had given up. We slept for a while and then picked fruit the next day, earning $4 apiece.

We stopped at 1 pm and then drove to the post office in Greenville. Our checks from Ft. Valley were there. We were able to cash them by finding a minister who was willing to co-sign for us.

To prevent a repeat of the previous night, we had arranged with Leroy’s wife to lock the kitchen door from the outside and keep the key. Since we had received our checks, we planned to leave the next day.

The whites treated the blacks worse here than any place we’d been. As I mentioned, there was a white crew and a black crew. They were not allowed to mix with each other in the fields. The black workers got paid even less than we did, even though they had much more experience. The white crew had access to toilets, the black crew and their families used outhouses. The white men kept the black men up all night forcing them to do whatever they wanted. Black women were taken and used at the whim of white men. It was really ugly.

[Note: As I typed this story from the scrapbook, I was really struck with the difference in the content of the sentences in the last paragraph and Leroy’s assurance that there would no problems coming their way due to us staying in the camp. If I’m remembering right, the black men in this camp kept their distance from us, i.e. they did not interact with us. I don’t think it would have been safe for them to even speak with us. My guess is that Leroy, as crew boss, had privileges that the other men didn’t have.]

We sang again that night. This time we sang a lot of spirituals and folk songs and the people from the camp sang with us. We were having a good time; a little girl was brushing my hair. Then at 11 pm we heard a voice, turned around, and found three policemen standing behind us. One said, “We have orders from Mr. Robinson to get you off of his land.” I couldn’t believe it. We talked with them for a while but got nowhere.

I was upset, mad, furious, angry and not too happy. We couldn’t understand why Mr. Robinson hadn’t said anything to us when he saw us during the day, or why he had waited until 11 o’clock at night to throw us out. The people were as upset as we were. Leroy was there with shaving lotion all over his face and a razor in his hand. We said a lot of sad goodbyes and then left. As we were driving away, we asked the police if we could go the packing shed and talk to the owner if he was still there. (The shed was only two minutes away.) They were okay with us doing that.

Packing Shed
Packing Shed

When we arrived at the shed, we discovered that four of the crew members, three black and one white, were already there. The two crews had signed on for the whole season, but they were telling the owner that if he kicked us out at that time at night, by morning his camp would be empty. We were so surprised!

We talked to Mr. Robinson also. It was clear he didn’t believe it was safe for us to stay in the camp and he wouldn’t allow us to do so. We told him we were responsible for whatever happened and we felt perfectly safe. Since his crews had threatened to leave, he was under considerable pressure and finally gave in; he would let us stay until morning.

The policemen drove away. It would have been interesting to hear their thoughts about what had transpired that night.

The four of us and the representatives from the two crews triumphantly returned to the camp. It was obvious the people enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them. We sure appreciated that they had intervened on our behalf. We sang for a while longer and then went to bed.

We had no further problems that night. The white men were noisy again, but they didn’t say a word about us.  The next morning we departed the camp, and before long left South Carolina behind.

 

(The next post in this series will be published on Friday December 25.)

To read the previous posts go to:

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer (Series Intro)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #1  (Seattle to Florida)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #2 (Atlanta International Pop Festival)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #3 (Working in Georgia)

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

On June 29 and 30, Amma conducted programs in Atlanta for the first time.  At one point, my daughter Chaitanya asked if I wanted to visit Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church and the other buildings at the MLK National Historical Site.  I jumped at the opportunity. We went during the short break between Amma’s morning and evening programs.  Our plan was to see as much as we could this year, and view the rest the next time we go to Atlanta. The first place we visited was Ebenezer Baptist church.  Starting in 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. co-pastored that church, along with his father.  As we sat in the pews, a recording of one of Dr. King’s speeches filled the air.  I closed my eyes and imagined myself being present at the time the speech was first given.  I would have been content to stay sitting there for hours. When I looked around, I noticed many people were taking photographs.  I resisted doing the same, but in time changed my mind; I wanted to be able to share this memorable experience with others.

At King Hall there were many exhibits about the lives of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King.  In addition, the hall contined rooms that were tributes to Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

In Rosa Parks’ room, there were many pictures and mementos.  I was particularly drawn to a quilt that was hanging on the wall.

Among the items in Mahatma Gandhi’s room were one of his walking sticks, a pair of sandals, a portable spinning wheel, and framed quotes.  I was not aware that Dr. King had so much respect for Mahatma Gandhi.  I also didn’t know he had traveled to India.  Dr.  King once said: “To other countries I may go as a tourist, to India I come as a pilgrim.”

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Next we went to the place where Dr. and Coretta King’s bodies are interred.  It was beautiful and felt like very sacred space to me.

We had planned to visit the home where Dr. King was born, but once there we discovered they only let visitors in twice a day and you have to get tickets ahead of time.  We did appreciate having the opportunity to see his house and stand on his porch, but will have to wait for a future visit to go inside. 20150629_162706 We spent the last half hour of our visit at the National Park Visitor Center.  Below you will see parts of the huge mural that is across from the entrance to that building.  I wish I had had time to look carefully at all that was contained in that artwork. Inside the Center there were enough exhibits to keep us busy for most of a day.  Several of the displays were interactive.  An example is in the picture below, where visitors were able to walk alongside statues of the civil rights marchers.  We will definitely spend more time at this Center in the future.

The night before our visit, I read about the National Historical Site in the tourist book in my hotel.  I found a story that really surprised me.  In preparation for writing this post, I learned more about it. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, not everyone supported the decision.  The first ever integrated dinner in Atlanta was planned to celebrate it.  Black business owners signed up to attend but the white business establishment wanted nothing to do with it.  J. Paul Austin, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, and Mayor Ivan Allen brought some of the prominent white business leaders together.  The message Paul Austin gave them was:

“It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner.  We are an international business.  The Coca-Cola Co. does not need Atlanta.  You all need to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Co.”

The event sold out within two hours! 20150629_165301 During our time at the Site, I experienced deep emotions and many memories.  That era had affected me and my life decisions profoundly.  There is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. contributed significantly to making me the person I am today. I feel blessed to have visited Dr. King’s memorial site and look forward to returning to it in the future.