'Ain't Gon' Let Nobody
Turn Me Around'
Bernice Reagon
The Honorable James Gadsden
Matthew Kennedy
Joshie Jo Armstead
Curtis King
The Honorable Tyrone Brooks
African American spirituals, gospel and folk music played a central role in the Civil Rights Movement. During marches, sit-ins and even under arrest, singing was heavily relied upon to keep unity and energy among the crowd. Singing was also an important part of ceremonies, in order to help relieve anxiety and tension. Musician and professor Bernice Reagon recalled, “ And so singing becomes a way of balancing some of the stuff that comes up in you, when you begin to change your behavior…If you have anxiety or fear running through your body, you raise a song…For me, there would be no way to actually execute the moves we made without the singing and the song .” During the Civil Rights Movement, singing was a unifying exercise for often anxious and weary crowds. Spirituals and gospel music in particular, resonated with members of the Civil Rights Movement because those songs were rooted in overcoming hardship and enduring struggle. Foreign ambassador The Honorable James Gadsden remembered, “ Normally we would meet at a church and then march downtown to the point where we were going to demonstrate and then we'd demonstrate. So when we were on the corner of King and Calhoun Street and just kind of marching in an orderly fashion around the four corners of the intersection and singing, either 'We Shall Overcome' or some other hymn of the movement at that time .” Many traditional hymns and spirituals used during the Movement were not explicitly about civil rights and freedom, but their lyrics had versatile meanings that made them relevant in this context. They became potent freedom songs and other spirituals were adapted with new words to emphasize the struggle for freedom and related issues.

Pivotal and often tragic events prompted artists to write songs in response, like John Coltrane ’s ‘Alabama’ and Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam.’ However, there was a renewed interest in spirituals as the movement mobilized. Music professor Matthew Kennedy noted, “ As the Civil Rights Movement started and grew, there became more interest in the singing of spirituals, because I guess they felt they were reclaiming their roots and the students loved the spirituals and they wanted to hear more of them, and know about them. ” Events of the Civil Rights Movement even inspired some artists to write more spiritual and socially conscious songs, singer and songwriter Joshie Jo Armstead remembered, “ My songs took a spiritual edge, I remember a lyric that I did about "circles going around, we keep putting each down. And I can't live like this, friends misusing friends to bring money in, we built prisons for our bodies but our minds is a thing that we really keep confined." So I was aware what was going on.

Oftentimes, nineteenth century spirituals were refashioned to fit a modern context, as in the case of ‘Ain’t Gon’ Let Nobody Turn Me Around,’ which was based on the spiritual ‘Don’t Let Nobody Turn Me Round.’ Nonprofit executive Curtis King recalled the Meredith March Against Fear and said, “ I saw King and Andy Young and all these people when they had that march from Memphis to Jackson, and they would stop at certain places on 51 Highway and sing these songs you know 'Ain't Gon' Let Nobody Turn Me Around…the harmonies were unbelievable, now that was so African I mean, I'll always remember that.” State Representative The Honorable Tyrone Brooks remembered a march with the Southern Christian Leadership Council in Lincolnton, Georgia, where he and a group of protestors were confronted by an armed mob of black townspeople who were paid by white members of the social elite, “ Reverend Bolden said, ‘These black folks have been paid by the white power structure to stop us to bust up this march.’ We didn't let that happen. We marched. And we said, ‘Ain't gon’ let nobody turn us around.’ We started singing…We sang our freedom songs, ‘Ain't gon' let nobody turn us around, gonna keep on marching.’ And we marched in and we marched out .”
Left to Right: Interviewer Harritte Cole and Photographer Reginald Jackson sit for his interview
This week, The HistoryMakers are busy in Boston as our interview team embarks on their journey to complete 18 interviews! Interviewers Larry Crowe and Harriette Cole are accompanied by videographers Matthew Hickey and Scott Sterns . Among those interviewed were; The Honorable Roderick Ireland, Professor Dr. Walter Fluker, Visual artist Robert Freeman, Director and producer Topper Carew, Professor Steve Rogers, Photographer Reginald Jackson, Magazine editor Esther Jackson, Motivational speaker Carole Copeland Thomas, Civic leader and educator Robert P. Moses, Academic administrator Em Claire Knowles, Professor Scott V. Edwards, Professor and composer William C. Banfield, Academic administrator J. Keith Motley, 93 year old Ruth Edmonds Hill and 103 year old Dorothy Burnham and her daughter Margert Burnham.
It is with great sorrow that we announce the loss of concert pianist and music educator Blanche Burton-Lyles , the founder and CEO of the National Marian Anderson Museum , who passed away on Monday, November 12, 2018 at the age of 85. She was the musical protégé of Marian Anderson, a famed opera singer, and became the first African American graduate of the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. In 1947, at the age of 14, Burton-Lyles also became the first African American to perform at the historic Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. When asked how she would like to be remembered, Ms. Burton-Lyles responded, “ Well, as one who always upheld classical music and the students. Our motto is, charting the course of education through music. So you see, they're interrelated. And that the young people are raised in an environment of the arts, and developing that part of their lives...That's the special quality that makes us human and sensitive, creative. All of that is a part of our lives .”
"When the door of opportunity opens, be ready to put your foot in, and leave it open for your brother and sister."

- The Honorable Joan Scott Wallace , academic administrator and federal appointee
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