Top of page

Article The African American Civil Rights Movement

Booklet cover: We Shall Overcome
We Shall Overcome. Booklet cover from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. Select the link for more information. Prints and Photographs LC-USZC4-6525.

African American civil rights efforts made gradual progress in the early twentieth century. Before World War II President Roosevelt's administration, pressured by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, succeeded in passing a law ordering corporations to desegregate, but enforcement of the law was a problem. During the war, the Army remained segregated. So during the 1950s frustrated African Americans stepped up their efforts in demanding desegregation and the enforcement of laws that guaranteed equal voting rights. The largely northern folk song revival's interest in the songs of African Americans in the south led to awareness among affluent young white Americans of these issues. Spirituals, blues, and Gospel music provided the basis for many of the songs created by African Americans themselves, which became part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as young people from the north who went to the south to aid the movement. Some spirituals needed little or no changes in their lyrics to be used as inspiration for the movement, such as "This Little Light of Mine" (sung in this example by Doris McMurray on an ethnographic field recording made by John and Ruby Lomax in 1939) and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" (performed on this recording by Marian Anderson in 1924). Songs were also used to bring in money for the movement at fund raisers featuring leaders of the movement, such as Rev. Martin Luther King.

This presentation also includes a performance of songs from the Civil Rights era from the Washington, DC-based sextet Reverb, consisting of Steve Langley, Victor Pinkney, Chris Hunter, Troy Edler, Kevin Owens, and Jason Deering. The Civil Rights songs performed on this webcast are "Freedom Land" (timecode 00:05:20); "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" (timecode 00:08:55); "Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Round" (timecode 00:11:20); "Oh, Freedom" (timecode 00:16:00); "I Woke Up This Morning with my Mind on Freedom" (timecode 00:18:30 ); and "Dog, Dog," a song with humorous lyrics that encourages people to along (timecode 00:24:45). The group also sings a modern protest song calling attention to the plight of the poor, "In This Land," composed by group member Steve Langley (timecode 55:15) and contemoporary songs commemorating the contribution of African American soldiers to American history and the difficulty of making their service more widely known: "Tuskegee Airmen," by Bruce O'Neal (timecode 00:35:55) and "Buffalo Soldier," (no composer announced, timecode 50:35:00).


About this Item


  • The African American Civil Rights Movement


  • -  Social Change
  • -  Songs and Music
  • -  Articles

Additional Metadata Formats

Rights & Access

The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes and makes no warranty with regard to their use for other purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as holders of publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. There may be content that is protected as "works for hire" (copyright may be held by the party that commissioned the original work) and/or under the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations.

Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item. Users should consult the bibliographic information that accompanies each item for specific information. This catalog data provides the details known to the Library of Congress regarding the corresponding items and may assist users in making independent assessments of the legal status of these items as related to their desired uses.

Items included here with the permission of the rights holders are indicated as such in the bibliographic record for each item.

In some cases, the Library was unable to identify a possible rights holder and has elected to place some of those items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. The Library of Congress would like to learn more about these materials and would like to hear from individuals or institutions that have any additional information or know of their history. Please contact:  Performing Arts Reading Room.

Suggested credit line: Library of Congress.

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

TheAfrican American Civil Rights Movement. Web..

APA citation style:

TheAfrican American Civil Rights Movement. [Web.] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

TheAfrican American Civil Rights Movement. Web.. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.