The Language of Songs: The Utilization of Freedom Songs as a Form of Protest in the South African Anti-apartheid and U.S. Civil Rights Movements

By Jeremy van Blommestein and Sarah Hope.

Published by The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Throughout social history, countless social movements have emerged around the world with purposes ranging from exposition of political, economic or social abuses, to complete usurpation of the institution. In order to be successful, movement leaders must attract support with a common grievance and develop schemes for communicating their messages to one another and to the outside world. Common culture is one means of uniting individuals and fostering among them a sense of solidarity. One of the most effective cultural tools utilized by many historical movements has been music, which forms group or national identity. In the following discussion, through the comparative lens of the historical struggles against racial inequalities in the United States’ civil rights movement and in the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, this analysis will demonstrate music’s importance (both religious and secular) in social activism as a means of creating and communicating collective identity. The aesthetic and emotive effects of music are undeniable. Music of all types, depending on its context, can arouse feelings of joy, sorrow, anger, motivation, or inspiration. It may illustrate history, generate nostalgia, or inspire action. No matter what the intention of the composer or the performer, it is incontrovertible that music is an emotional medium. Protesters in particular are open to the emotional messages threaded throughout popular music because they feel marginalized and unimportant in societies that value adult experience over youthful idealism. Therefore, music provides direction in how to express their energy and deal with their moods, and gives them a voice.

Keywords: Freedom Songs, Anti-Apartheid, Civil Rights, Racial Inequality, Social Movement, Music, Protest, Protest Songs

The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 10, pp.59-68. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 385.017KB).

Dr. Jeremy van Blommestein

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, SUNY Potsdam, Potsdam, New York, USA

Dr. Jeremy van Blommestein is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at SUNY Potsdam and specializes in racial/ethnic relations and criminology. His research focuses on multiracial issues/identities, racial and ethnic relations, social movements/civil rights and anti-Apartheid, race and the criminal justice system, and aviation and social science topics.

Sarah Hope

Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA

Sarah Hope is currently a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse University. She graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam in 2010 with a B.A. in Sociology and a B.M. in Music Business. Her academic interests include representations of gender, sexuality and identity in popular culture and the arts.