Thursday, November 01, 2007

1957, fifty years later

Although the 1960s bore the brunt of the civil rights movement, with bombings in Birmingham, violent protests in Selma, and on and on, the 1950s were not all sock hops and saddle loafers. Fifty years later, scholars are convening at Binghamton University to discuss "Black Liberation and the Spirit of '57." The major papers are online.

David Garrow's treatment of Little Rock exposes President Eisenhower's utter lack of commitment to the cause of civil rights. I recommend it.

But if you can only find the time for one of these essays, I highly recommend Robert Darden's “Sam Cooke, ‘You Send Me,’ and the American Highway." Darden deftly links the infiltration of black music into white popular culture to a dramatic rise in black mobility thanks to a combination of the new interstate highways (authorized by Eisenhower from his sickbed in 1956) and the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

When Cooke created his own record label following the success of "You Send Me," one of his first projects was with the Pilgrim Travelers. But long before that day, their first hit back in 1948 had been "Standing on the Highway," which included the mournful line,

She left me standing out on the highway
Left me wondering
Which way to go.

The promise of the Federal Aid Highway Act, which ultimately would be fulfilled in a way that not Eisenhower . . . and not even Sam Cooke could imagine, would provide the answer to the Travelers' question. Which way to go? It was another small stap on the road towards an America someday that lives up to the considerable promise of its own origins, where all men and women are free.

[Peter] Guralnik calls his biography of Cooke, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, and the title is taken from the Langston Hughes poem of the same name:

Good morning, daddy!
Ain't you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred. --Langston Hughes, "Dream Boogie"

In this, at least, the intersection of the on-going struggle for civil rights for all people and a relatively obscure piece of federal legislation, worked together to see that the dream would not be forever deferred.

It took me a little while to realize that I know Bob Darden. He was a master's student in journalism at the University of North Texas when I was an undergraduate journalism minor. We often worked the rim together. I believe Doug Starr was usually in the slot.

(Via Cliopatria.)

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