The Movement: An Explosion of Sound & Rhythm

Many songs during the civil rights movement grew out of the rich culture of the black churches in the South, with songs to fit any mood or situation; joy,  sorrow, determination, humoror songs to get you past the fear and even songs to celebrate victories.


1.LT-P.7. Identify a regular beat and similarities of sounds in words in responding to rhythm and rhyme in poetry.


Warm Up

The children of Birmingham sang a new song that summer. It went to the tune of The Old Gray Mare. The fusion of marching and song was strategic. The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, speaking to the young people about nonviolence, had said, “It’s to be a silent demonstration. No songs, no slogans, no replies to obscenities.” Everyone nodded in agreement. “However,” Shuttlesworth added, “when you’re arrested, sing your hearts out.”

That’s exactly how it played out. So when a police- man shouted, “You’re all under arrest!” hundreds of voices united in song:

Ain’tscared of your jail, ’cause I want my freedom,

I want my freedom, â¨I want my freedom.â¨

Ain’t scared of your jail, ’cause I want my freedom,â¨

I want my freedom now!

Ain’t scared of your dogs, ’cause ...

Ain’t scared of your hose, ’cause ...

New Material

Music always has been a part of political movements. Review how In this lesson, students will identify political issues and be incorporated into lyrics related to civil rights can be.


1. Ask students to individually list at least five issues that deeply concern them. Then encourage students to share with the whole group topics they might be interested in. List these on the board. Among them you may find bullying, harassment, or fairness.

2. Notice that the Birmingham youth chose a simple and familiar song. In this way, they didn’t needâ¨to learn a new song. They didn’t have to concentrate on the musical rhythm but could focus on the passion of the message. This remains a great strategy.

As a first step, select a simple song from childhood and wed it with important activist messages. Consider using the following songs:⨕ Row, Row, Row Your Boat⨕ Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star⨕ Michael, Row the Boat Ashore⨕ You Are My Sunshine⨕ The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

3. Teacher Model

-First model what you want students to do. Choose an issue dear to your own heart or choose one that you are sure will show up on the students’ lists. The model below is based on This Little Light of Mine and tackles the inequality of boys’ and girls’ sports teams:

-We want the same resources that the boys’ team gets. We want the same resources that the boys’ team gets. We want the same resources that the boys’ team gets.

Equity! Equity! Equity!

We want the prime time slot,

Equity! Equity! Equity!

Friday night at 8 ...â¨8 o’clock!â¨8 o’clock!

8 o’clock!

4. Have students work in pairs to write protest songs for things they really want to change. Practice the protest songs in your classroom and then take them into the hall- ways and out into your community.


Have students create their own political songs. Allow students to use contemporary songs of their choosing. Include songs that reflect racial and ethnic diversity in the classroom. Use this lesson as a foundation and then let students get creative. Let them choose the artist and genre they like most and connect their political issues to that music.

Closure and Reflection

[The closure of a lesson should directly tie the new material, student practice, instructional objectives, and assessment together. It should also connect this lesson to the previous lesson and link to the next lesson(s). In this is space you can also include your notes about how the lesson went. You should indicate what worked well, what was problematic, ideas for modifying the lesson for future use, and how this particular lesson ties in with others in the same curricular unit.]

Evaluate your song and tell how its lyrics support one or more of the following characteristics, e.g. joy/sorrow/determination/humor/fear or celebration.