Sounds of American Freedom from Smithsonian Folkways

The African American song tradition provided the soundtrack to the march to freedom during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The freedom songs from the movement, such as the ones played here, used the same musical building blocks as traditional African American spirituals and gospel songs with the addition of topical concerns and overt political demands. Martin Luther King, Jr. testified to the integral role of these songs saying, “In a sense the freedom songs are the soul of the movement...They are adaptations of the songs the slave sang: the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns, and the anthem of our movement.”