How Music Affected Race Relations [Episode]
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. - Martin Luther King
These are powerful and prolific words of Dr. Martin Luther King at his December 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech. Dr. King was a pioneer of putting an end to segregation and bringing equality to the most racist corners of America. Dr. King's fight for civil equality has been recounted and adopted a million times over.
But did you ever consider that music and artists taking similar stands could breed such impactful results. So much so, that it changed the very landscape of not only audiences, but communities, towns, cities, and even states, and in some of the most darkest days in American history.
As artists, we carry the obligation to portray and capture the world in both its beauty and faults. Some of us, even feel called upon to shine a light in the darkest corners to show our world that we can be better human race then what our history has demonstrated.
In 1869 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of races was legal with the ominous phrase, "Separate but equal." This ruling was made in the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The ruling, in this case, meant that separate but equal facilities did not violate the rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Source
From that point forward segregation became the largest boiling point issue that this country had ever known, and for years, the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling negatively impacted the rights of African Americans in the United States by allowing segregation to run ramped over the United States. Source
However, in 1954 the United States Supreme Court ruled against segregation in schools.
But this didn't bring societal harmony by any means. Here are just a few instances where music played a role in changing race relations.
On April 10, 1956, Legendary jazz singer/songwriter Nat King Cole was violently attacked while performing on stage when he was jumped by several angry white men. As it would turn out this was a premeditated attack by the White Citizens' Council. Even though Mr. Cole knew the risk as an African American performer performing in a hotbed of racists inequality that was 1950's Alabama, he agreed to perform for his loyal fans anyway. Source
In 1961, After receiving a telegram from students at Paine College, notifying Ray Charles that his African American fans could only attend his performance if they sat in the balcony, Charles tried to strike a deal with the organizers. Recognizing that city officials were unlikely to permit white and black patrons to sit together, Charles challenged the assumption that black patrons should always be given the worst accommodations.
When management refused to consider this arrangement, Charles announced that he would be cancelling his performance. In response, the promoter sued Charles for breach of contract and won a judgement against the performer. But all was not all lost, just two years later, Charles was invited back to Bell Auditorium where he performed before an integrated audience.
Ray Charles was quoted by saying, "I feel that it is the least that I can do to stand behind my principles and help the students in their fight for their principles."
But Rock music did not rid all of America's youth of the prejudices held by the generation before them, but it did impact many of them and, in some, it may have just started the process.
Soon these teenagers, the baby boomers, would reach voting age and it is no surprise that some of the most sweeping Civil Rights reforms took place as this happened. A great example of this is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which effectively outlaws segregation in the United States of America by allowing the United States to enforce integration.
While the Civil Rights Movement would have continued without rock In' roll, the influence of the genre and its artists on the minds of the nation's young people was vast. Without its influence it probably would have taken much longer to break down the barriers that rock n' roll helped break down. But it's important to note that it wasn't only African American artists that took a staunch position against racial injustice. Source
The Beatles. The Fab Four themselves took a very strong stance and refused to play a concert to a segregated audience during a visit to the U.S. in 1965.
Ahead of a gig at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, the Liverpudlian band believed to have inserted the request into their 'rider'. The quartet insisted that they would not perform for a 'segregated audience.
"We never play to segregated audiences and we aren't going to start now," said John Lennon. "I'd sooner lose our appearance money."
That same year also saw Rosa Parks, a black civil rights activist, refuse to give up her seat on a local bus which sparked a year-long boycott of transport services by the black community.
These are just some of the countless examples of when artists have taken stands against what had been considered "the norm" in society.
But without their acts of bravery and courage in the face of adversity, it is strong possibility that history may have had a much different outcome.