CLEVELAND MARCHES IN UNITY

'It moved people in the same direction'

By LARRY C. BOWERS
Posted 1/21/20

Lee University professors Dr. Mary McCampbell and Dr. Ruthie Wienk joined with singer Natalie Alcime Monday evening to rock the Johnson Lecture Hall in the school's Humanities Center.The three put …

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CLEVELAND MARCHES IN UNITY

'It moved people in the same direction'

LEE UNIVERSITY professor Gloria Richmond, right, addresses a group of her Evangelistic Singers prior to the start of a Monday night lecture and presentation on protest music during the Civil Rights era in the South. The program was provided by Dr. Mary McCampbell, Dr. Ruthie Wienk and Natalie Alcime.
LEE UNIVERSITY professor Gloria Richmond, right, addresses a group of her Evangelistic Singers prior to the start of a Monday night lecture and presentation on protest music during the Civil Rights era in the South. The program was provided by Dr. Mary McCampbell, Dr. Ruthie Wienk and Natalie Alcime.
Banner photo, LARRY C. BOWERS
Posted

Lee University professors Dr. Mary McCampbell and Dr. Ruthie Wienk joined with singer Natalie Alcime Monday evening to rock the Johnson Lecture Hall in the school's Humanities Center.

The three put together an inspiring program on "Resistance, Lament and Praise: The History and Practice of African American Protest Music."

This was another of several special programs scheduled on the Lee University and Cleveland State Community College campuses in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Week.

There was an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd of around 200 crowded into Johnson Lecture Hall to hear the presentations by McCampbell and Wienk, and songs by Alcime.

Other performances came from Lee's Evangelistic Singers, directed by Gloria Richmond, and their accompanying musicians.

The program focused on the pain, grief and suffering of the Civil Rights era, and the music which accompanied the messages of King, the inspirational face and voice of the Civil Rights movement.

Wienk discussed the psychological impact of the music of that time, while McCampbell talked about the history and significance of the protest songs.

Richmond, with her singers and musicians, were a strong addition to the program.

Wienk emphasized the music was mostly passed down orally, since blacks were not allowed to read and write. She said there were often hidden messages in the songs as a means of protest.

She said the gospel burden of the music had an impulse, including acknowledging that burden, bearing witness, and finding hope and redemption. 

McCampbell pointed out that black churches, where much of this music orginated, were persecuted in America.

"When we talk about the music of the Civil Rights movement, the words find residence," continued Wienk. "It moved people in the same direction, and bonded people together when they were taking action. It had a function of bonding them together."

The presenters added that on most of the Civil Rights marches, the people were usually singing, as they marched hand in hand.

"When they shared a song, they shared a story," the lecturers agreed.

McCampbell  pointed out that in the resonance of lament, "The protest songs provided unifying grief to a community, named what was going on, and was a means of restoration and special healing."

The program went on, through song, to touch on some of the originaters of the protest songs, and the performers who brought the words to America. 

This included a video of singer Billie Holiday as she sang Abel Meeropol's "Strange Fruit."

This was a song about the lynching of black men in the South, which became a spectator event over a period of time. The song was later performed by other black entertainers.

The first verse of the song included,

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from popular trees."

"It was a song of grief, sadness and pain," she said.

McCampbell also emphasized that many whites do not realize there is a black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

The program went on to other protest songs, and singers, such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and more.

Wienk and McCampbell also discussed briefly a school in East Tennessee, which played a big role in the Civil Rights movement, but is not widely known by the general public.

The Highlander Folk School in New Market, where King once taught, was a school for blacks and whites, which focused on the music of the South. It opened from 1932, and closed in 1968.

"They sang about everything, and the school was very influencial in the Civil Rights movement," said McCampbell. She emphasized that the song, "We Shall Overcome," got its roots at the East Tennessee school.

Wienk emphasized that the two Lee professors would like to see Monday's program become a beginning for the group, for meetings and singing together.

McCampbell went on to talk about music from the 1960s, such as Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," and Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind," as well as the Black Power Movement with Isaac Hayes, who became known as "The Black Moses."

Richmond's singers provided several songs, including "A Change is Gonna Come," "RESPECT," and "Oh Happy Days," and there was a group singing of "We Shall Overcome."

At the close of the program, McCampbell said she and Wienk were very happy with the turnout and participation Monday evening.

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