We sing the freedom songs today

for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that “We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday.”

Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, published 1964.

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An important part of the mass meetings was the freedom songs.

In a sense the freedom songs are the soul of the movement. They are more than just incantations of clever phrases designed to invigorate a campaign; they are as old as the history of the Negro in America. They are adaptations of the songs the slaves sang—the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns and the anthems of our movement. I have heard people talk of their beat and rhythm, but we in the movement are as inspired by their words. “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom” is a sentence that needs no music to make its point.

Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, published 1964.

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“felt the bastions of segregation could be most securely maintained in Birmingham if national exposure could be avoided.”

Bull Connor had been issuing ominous statements about our forthcoming meeting*. When he realized that his threats were frightening no one, he began to try to intimidate the press by announcing that the press cards of any “outside reporters” would be taken away from them. It was clear that Connor felt the bastions of segregation could be most securely maintained in Birmingham if national exposure could be avoided.

*The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was preparing for their annual meeting, to be held in Birmingham, and discussing a public campaign against the segregation there.

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The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people.

Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, published 1964.

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Every minority and every people has its share of opportunists,

profiteers, freeloaders and escapists. The hammer blows of discrimination, poverty and segregation must warp and corrupt some. No one can pretend that because a people may be oppressed, every individual member is virtuous and worthy. The real issue is whether in the great mass the dominant characteristics are decency, honor and courage.

Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, published 1964. 

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Spontaneously born, but guided by the theory of nonviolent resistance,

t he lunch-counter sit-ins accomplished integration in hundreds of communities at the swiftest rate of change in the civil-rights movement up to that time. Yet, many communities successfully resisted lunch-counter desegregation, and pressed charges against the demonstrators. It was correct and effective that demonstrators should fill the jails; but it was necessary that these foot soldiers for freedom not be deserted to languish there or to pay excessive penalties for their devotion.

Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, published 1964. 

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