Hello, KEXP friends, Michele Myers here. Each week I bring you a musical subject in the time it takes to play just one song. These stories are called KEXP Documentaries. And this year we’ve done 4 series: Pop Goes Electronic, The New World, Psychedelics and our current series, Civil Rights Songs.
This past week we took a look at gospel music’s role in the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, and studied up for a new take on the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott.
In 1955 Montgomery, Alabama was a battleground for civil rights. African-Americans were educating themselves on how to stop the unfair treatment they were getting. There were separate restaurants for different races. Separate washing rooms. Separate neighborhoods and churches. And separate sections for African-Americans to sit in on the bus.
The busses were the frontlines for the movement. Depending on how many people were on the bus, the line separating the races (“the color line”, they called it) floated from front to back. And one day in December an activist and seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat when a Caucasian man demanded it.
This started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by a young preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr, the African-American community banded together, creating carpools, improvised taxi services, and many people walked hours to work.
It was 13 long months before the boycott won out. The community met weekly in churches to sing spiritual songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind on Freedom.” The music gave the people strength to carry on.
KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous. You can hear all our KEXP Documentaries in the On Demand section at KEXP.ORG.