Like many of you today, we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy by turning to his own voice and words. In that spirit we’d like to share a clip of a speech Dr. King made to a group of organizers and activists at a Mass Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, April 1963, digitized from open reel tape recording FT-20008/9832 in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008). He addresses the audience with seriousness and humor, inspiring them to continue to fight for the cause and lifting them up in solidarity before they all join together to sing “We Shall Overcome”. Listen to those clips here or read the transcription below:
[Martin Luther King, Jr.]: Now what I’m saying to you we are in this together and they are scared to death they don’t know what to do but this demonstrates the power of numbers. Mr. Connor has hollered, I know he’s gonna be a hoarse tonight, he has hollered so loud and when we were leaving I said, “How you doing Mr Connor?”
[MLK mimicking Mr. Conner] “Arrrerrrarrrarr, How the hell you….!”
And so as we were driving out he looked at Billups and we were in the car, he said “You better get on back over that church and I hope you get there safe”
Yes but God bless you that’s all we want to say, “Don’t worry..” We’re gonna take care of everything and see that everybody’s treated alright. And I said this to Mr. Marshall, I said “Now, I want you to know this Mr. Marshall, they are not criminals.” And I said “It’s not our problem.”
And Mr. Marshall said, “Well you know the city’s had a real problem today with so many…”
And I said “Well that’s that your problem, not ours. When you arrest somebody it is the job of the city to see that they are housed, that they are fed this is the job of the city. These young people have been unjustly arrested for standing up for that right. Don’t you know it’s a sacred right to picket and to protest. People can march around the White House, 500 went to the White House yesterday nobody was arrested. And down here in Alabama we are put in jail because we will stand up for our rights.”
And we are going to let them know if they put us in jail they’re going to treat us right after we get there
[Speaking: Rev. Charles Billups]:
Now let us join hands and let us sing together, “We Shall Overcome”
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday,
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome someday.
You can hear the entire tape, as well as interviews and comments from participating student actives, streaming through the Southern Folklife Collections digital collections here: FT-20008/9832. Digitized recordings in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection have been made accessible through streaming thanks to SFC’s ongoing audiovisual preservation grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The photo above is a closeup of Guy Carawan’s banjo head (pictured in full below), signed by Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as other leaders like Rosa Parks, Mahalia Jackson, Septima Clark, Fred Shuttlesworth and more. If you are interested in other archival materials related to Martin Luther King, Jr. you may want to read an article from today’s News and Observer, April 4, 2018, “Martin Luther King, Jr. and Chapel Hill’s Jim Crow Past,” by journalist Mike Ongle. The article based on research across the collections at Wilson Special Collections Library and details Martin Luther King’s visit to Chapel Hill and UNC Chapel Hill in May of 1960, including photos from the John Kenyon Chapman Papers (05441) .
Our colleagues at Duke University are hosting a conference March 23-March 24 to honor the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the creation of the SNCC Digital Gateway, a “documentary website tells the story of how young activists in SNCC united with local people in the Deep South to build a grassroots movement for change that empowered the Black community and transformed the nation.” [“About,” SNCC Digital Gateway]
In solidarity with the conference and the SNCC Legacy Project, we present these two images from the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008). The top image shows the back of Guy Carawan singing to the audience in an auditorium at Shaw University in Durham, April 1960. Brought together by the encouragement of SCLC Executive Director Ella Baker and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the protest leaders founded SNCC at this meeting.
The image below shows the members of newly founded SNCC demonstrating the power of music and the movement at Fisk University. Guy Carawan is playing guitar, Candie Carawan is second from the left in the back row, and Congressman John Lewis is at the far right. These images serve as a powerful reminder that youth have been, and remain, at the forefront of activism advocating for social change.
Singer, folklorist, activist and organizer Guy Carawan is a hero. He died last week at the age of 87. At the Southern Folklife Collection, we are lucky to be in the presence of Guy and Candie through the legacy of his work archived in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008). Like many heroes, Guy and Candie Carawan worked tirelessly and constantly. Prior to their meeting at the Highlander Folk School in 1960 to present day, the Carawans dedicated their lives to fighting for social justice through political engagement, education, and organizing. They believed in the power of song and the unbreakable spirit forged when multiple voices rise up in harmony and solidarity. Numerous media outlets have detailed Guy Carawan’s legacy in obituaries this week. More people have learned of Carawan’s role in popularizing an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome,” teaching it to organizers at the first meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh in 1960, this week than ever before. Our hope is that the materials presented here can expand from that moment and expose more of the world to the life and work of our friend and hero, Guy Carawan.
Every year, scholars from around the world expose me to new facets of the Carawans’ work through their research. Choosing what to share to honor Guy’s life from a collection of almost 20,000 items is an impossible task. Hundreds of open reel and audio cassette tapes made by the Carawans document the cultures of various groups of people in the South including significant speeches, sermons, and musical performances recorded during major civil rights demonstrations and conferences in Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta. These recordings include master tapes of several documentary albums released on Folkways Records and feature such influential figures as Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, James Bevel, Len Chandler, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and Nashville Mayor R. Benjamin West.
Numerous field recordings of worship meetings, songs, stories, and recollections from Johns Island, S.C., document elements of the African American heritage of the rural South Carolina Low Country. Included are complete recordings of all-night Christmas and New Year’s watch meetings held in Moving Star Hall, a community praise house, as well as interviews with civic leader and activist Esau Jenkins about socio-economic improvements and efforts to overcome racial discrimination and poverty on Johns Island in the 1950s and 1960s. Listen to Esau Jenkins talk about his life on St. John’s Island followed by a prayer from the Moving Star Hall church, from open reel tape FT3617:Track 01Track 05
Born 7 July 1927 in Santa Monica, Calif. Guy’s father was from Mesic, North Carolina in the Eastern part of the state. While pursuing a degree in mathematics at Occidental College, Carawan studied folklore with Austin Fife and began to perform as a folksinger. He subsequently completed a master’s degree in sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he continued his study of folklore with Wayland Hand. During the early 1950s, Carawan grew interested in incorporating folk music and topical songs into progressive socio-political activism and became involved in the People’s Song movement, meeting such activist-musicians as Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. In the late 1950s, Carawan released albums on Folkways Records, including Songs By Guy Carawan, SFC call number FC5349, featuring the playing of John Cohen (who Carawan met at jam sessions in Washington Square Park).
Carawan released a number of albums with Folkways, his second featured liner notes by Alan Lomax. In 1959, after the death of his teacher and collaborator Zilphia Horton, he became the director of music at the Highlander Folk School, an institution that provided instruction in social organization and was a meeting place for people interested in the civil rights movement and related causes in the South.
Candie Anderson, also from southern California, became interested in the black civil rights movement while in high school. She attended Pomona College near Los Angeles, but spent her junior year of college at Fisk University, a historically African American institution in Nashville, Tenn. While there, she participated in pro-integration demonstrations led by black students in Nashville. She became acquainted with Guy Carawan during a workshop at the Highlander School.
Candie and Guy Carawan remained affiliated with the Highlander Center and with the predominantly black community of Johns Island, S.C., where they addressed issues of racial discrimination and rural poverty, particularly through a citizenship education program formulated by the Highlander School.
They participated in major civil rights campaigns in Birmingham, Atlanta, and other southern cities. Participating in Freedom Rides and the Birmingham Mass Meeting.
Through workshops at the Highlander Center and elsewhere, they collected variants of African American spirituals and other songs for use in civil rights demonstrations and shared them with other participants, publishing a number of books like the following We Shall Overcome! (Oak Publications, 1963).
Throughout their careers, the Carawans have sought to document the music and culture of various groups of people with whom they have worked. They have been involved in the production of seventeen documentary recordings and seven films and have written five books, including three anthologies of songs associated with the civil rights movement. All the while, Guy continued to perform and record on his own as well as produce recordings by other artists. He will be missed but he will not be forgotten.
In the spring of 1963 Guy and Candie Carawan traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to participate in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Birmingham campaign to desegregate businesses and public facilities in that city. Fortunately they were able to record several mass meetings attended there, including speeches by the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the clip below, from tape FT-3648 in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection, Dr. King addresses the gathered crowd on “the power of unarmed truth”: King