Sunday, December 17, 2017

SNCC Freedom Singer Matt Jones: A 1994 Interview--Part 1

The Summer of 1994 marked the 30th Anniversary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC]’s Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964, in which over 1,000 student volunteers from around the U.S. participated, after attending training sessions in Oxford, Ohio. But in 2017 a former chairman of SNCC, H. Rap Brown (n/k/a Jamil al-Amin), is still imprisoned for life in a Georgia prison.

In 1994, Downtown spoke with former SNCC organizer and Freedom Singers Director, Matt Jones (1936-2011) about the Freedom Summer, the Freedom Singers, SNCC and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Jones lived in Manhattan and for many years  generously donated his time to sing at many human rights and peace benefits. At The People’s Voice CafĂ© in Manhattan, a celebration of his 70th birthday took place in 2006. Following is part 1 of an interview with Jones, which first appeared in the September 21, 1994 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative newspaper, Downtown.

Now it’s 30 years [in 1994] after the Mississippi Summer Project. What activities were you involved in that led to the Freedom Summer? What are your most enduring and vivid memories of that Summer?
Matt Jones
: In January 1964, I went on tour with the SNCC Freedom Singers. Our job was to organize Friends of SNCC chapters in the northern part of the United States and to talk about the Movement to interested students, who would in turn give their bodies, their minds and their finances to the struggle. They knew, by the accounts of life and death that we would give them in our concerts, that to work for SNCC was as dangerous as any war.

In early 1964, we did a concert at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The KKK burned a cross on the lawn. Dick Gregory, who was touring with us, made fun of the incident. We wrote a song called “The Klansman:” (recites)

“Out of the night
When the full moon is bright
Rides a devil known as a Klansman.
Devil, who makes the sign of a K.
Devil, you’re bound to see your day.”

From the incident many students from Oxford got involved in SNCC. Their networking with the SNCC office in Atlanta set the stage for using Oxford as the meeting place for the Summer Orientation. Similar networking was done in other states, but none was as complex as The Mississippi Summer Project.

Seeing many students that we had organized with speeches and songs was an affirmation that we had done a good job. But that reality scared me. I suddenly felt an enormous responsibility. The people we had sung to and who we had organized were the students who were going South.

We heard that three students were missing in Meridian [Mississippi]. I became very nervous. I sat under the tree where we had taught many students nonviolent techniques, and hoped that they would decide to go home, because I did not want the responsibility of their deaths. I knew [SNCC Field Secretary] Bob Moses was talking to the students in the hall, and felt confident of Bob’s ability to explain things. Bob was a genius at making points with a few words. He had an eloquent silence. Bob was the leader of the Council of Federated Organizations [COFO] in Mississippi during Freedom Summer.

I knew I had a lot of responsibility for the students being there. I’m one of the cheerleaders, one of the people who talked them into coming down. Or talked them into thinking that was the place to be. But I had no way of knowing, when I was talking to them, that they would come down and somebody would actually get killed. A student would actually get killed. And we would have to deal with that.

So when we heard that three [civil rights] workers were missing, I looked at these students wishing they would go home.

Why was a decision made to utilize the student volunteers?
: I had been arrested 29 times in the Movement.

Jones: Across the South.

What kinds of arrests?
Jones: Well, you would go to register people to vote and they would throw you in jail. You would go to integrate a lunch counter and they would throw you in jail. You would go to integrate a movie theater and get thrown in jail. And it just wound up, in the final analysis, being 29 times.

We had found out, as early as the March on Washington [in 1963], that with white student involvement the country would pay more attention to the struggle. We knew from past experience that this country would not react to Black people being killed. So in bringing the student volunteers to the South, their parents, their home towns, their colleges and their congressmen would be interested in their welfare.

We were right. However, we were as shocked as the rest of the nation when Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were killed. In 1963, we had previously used white students in other places throughout the South. However, the majority of these students were from the South.

So we took a calculated risk. We thought that something would happen. That people would get involved. And they did get involved. We didn’t want it to happen the way it happened…

Now when I was sitting under that tree, I knew that they were going. But I also knew I was going with them. So right after some of them left, I wound up going to Meridian. And being there with [Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC)] leader] Jim Bevel and a CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] worker named “Flukie” Suarez.

But I knew that some of the veteran workers had to go into Meridian at that time. And I was one of them that went into Meridian. I was frightened, but I also knew a little bit more about how to survive in that area than Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman had known. (end of part 1)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

FBI Spied On Topical Protest Folk Singer-Songwriter Phil Ochs In 1960s and 1970s

(Phil Ochs--by Kenneth Tash - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
In his book Death Of A Rebel: A Biography of Phil Ochs, Marc Eliot described what happened at the Chicago 8 trial when 1960s Topical Protest Folk Singer-Songwriter Phil Ochs arrived to testify in Dec. 1969:

“…After a brief series of questions to establish that Phil was a singer by profession, Kunstler began to weave Phil into the pattern of the defense:

KUNSTLER: Now Mr. Ochs, can you indicate what kind of songs you sing?

OCHS: I write all my own songs and they are just simple melodies with a lot of lyrics. They usually have to do with current events and what is going on in the news, which goes back to journalism, and you can call them topical songs, songs about the news and then developing into more philosophical songs later…

KUNSTLER: Now did there come a time when there was any discussion of Yippie plans with reference to the convention, the Democratic National Convention?

OCHS: Yes, there were. I don’t remember the exact date because there were several meetings, probably, Jan. or Feb. of 1968…

KUNSTLER: Where did these discussions take place?

OCHS: The Lower East Side, different apartments, sometimes Jerry’s apartment and sometimes Abbie’s apartment…

KUNSTLER: Can you indicate in general to the court and jury what the plans were for Yippies in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention?...

OCHS…What Jerry Rubin said to me was that he planned to have a Festival of Life in Chicago during the Democratic Convention, basically representing an alternative culture on the assumption that they felt the Democratic Party did not represent them or a whole large mass of the American public. They wanted to have, therefore, an alternate convention. They would theatrically sort of spoof the Convention and show the public, the media, that the Convention was not to be taken seriously because it wasn’t fair, and wasn’t going to be honest, and wasn’t going to be a Democratic Convention, and so they would have essentially events they hoped to do in Lincoln Park. They hoped to get permits. They discussed flying to Chicago to talk with Mayor Daley or people working with Mayor Daley. They several times mentioned they wanted to avoid any violence…”
(Downtown/Aquarian Weekly 4/10/96)

Coincidentally, until his suicide on April 9, 1976, the FBI showed a special interest in investigating Phil Ochs. As The Politics of Rock Music by John Orman recalled in 1984:

“The quintessential ‘60s person not only had a cult following of politicos, folk junkies, protest fans, and movement freaks but also had a `following’ in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, it is clear that the FBI kept a domestic file on Ochs from 1963 until his suicide. As Ochs always said, `They [the government] have files on me this thick,’ and then he would laugh. He was absolutely correct. The FBI has released over 400 pages from the Phil Ochs file, and it is clear from the documents that the FBI spent an extraordinary amount of time following, checking up on, and detailing the activities of Phil Ochs…

“Agents checked Selective Service, insurance companies, the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 in New York, neighbors at 139 Thompson Street in New York City, the Credit Bureau of Greater New York, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Special Services (Red Squad), Board of Elections—Manhattan, and other sources…The FBI then checked with an acquaintance of Ochs who resided in Greenwich Village who was a folksinger and guitarist. This person was also the subject of an FBI New York file…

“The Los Angeles FBI office investigated Ochs from Aug. 31 to Dec. 12, 1968, and forwarded data to the New York office…

“…Ochs…refused to be interrogated by FBI agents on Oct. 1, 1968…

“…He was busted for possession of marijuana on Oct. 5, 1968 by the Los Angeles police department’…

“In 1973 the Agency added Ochs’ phone number to their computerized telephone file…”

(Downtown 4/13/94)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Did Corporate Music Industry Journalists Cover-Up Dylan's Post-1966 Artistic and Political Deterioration?

Many fans of the early 1960's protest folk singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, lost interest in his post-1966 singer-songwriting work, after Dylan seemed to become more commercially-motivated than he previously had been; and after he pretty much stopped writing protest folk songs and topical folk songs (except for the post-1966 topical folk-rock songs"George Jackson" and "Hurricane"), with poetic lyrics that reflected artistically the personal, social and political concerns of the civil rights and anti-war Movement activists and supporters who had been emotionally moved by his pre-1966 song-writing and campus concerts.

Yet since the late 1960s, most music journalists and music writers who write for corporate music industry publications like Rolling Stone magazine or the book publishing or newspaper and magazine subsidiaries of the global corporate media conglomerates rarely produce articles or books that evaluate Dylan's post-1966 work in a negative way or present an unflattering image of the pre-1963 Woody Guthrie clone-turned post-1966 multi-millionaire hipster capitalist rock star.

In his 1989 book, Dylan, Bob Spitz, indicated some reasons why most corporate music industry journalists and writers may have tried to cover up Dylan's post-1966 artistic and political deterioration in their writing about Dylan's life and career during the last five decades:

"...Like the ancient court historians, Bob's biographers obediently wrote the story he put in front of them. Otherwise responsible journalists, dazzled by an audience with him, failed to question or examine the accuracy of his statements; incredibly enough, they just printed what he said verbatim. Leafing through the thousands of pages of articles and transcripts about Bob--from Nat Hentoff's New Yorker profile in 1964 to the most recent Rolling Stone interview--one is struck by the sheer number of untruths and epic exaggerations that have found their way into print. Few performers have been more protected by literary sycophants--critics and reputable journalists who either participated unwittingly or have allowed their own fortunes to be so intimately intertwined with Bob Dylan that the work they produced serves primarily as a library of memoir and self-promotion...

"Needless to say, this creates extraordinary difficulty for a biographer. The vast writings that constitute a loosely assembled Dylan archives provides a scant factual foundation upon which to build. Not surprisingly, many journalists refused to lend assistance...fearful that either their past willingness to collude with Bob would be exposed or their cooperation with me would bring recriminations...After this book was in its final stages, I was offered access to Bob as well as permission to explore certain resources under his tight control and to quote from his lyrics in exchange for an agreement allowing him to examine and amend the finished manuscript. Similarly, these were photographers wo whose work I was denied access until I submitted to this demand. Not wishing to provide yet another literary whitewashing, I refused..."

Friday, November 3, 2017

1964 CBC TV Show With Some Protest Folk Songs

In February 1964, early 1960's protest folk singer, Dylan, sang some of his pre-1965 songs like "Times They Are A-Changin'", "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

`We Shall Overcome' Civil Rights Protest Folk Song's History Revisited

The 1960's civil rights movement anthem, "We Shall Overcome", was probably the most widely-sung protest folk song that civil rights movement demonstrators sang at street and church rallies, street protest marches and at their restaurant sit-ins, when they were engaged in acts of non-violent civil disobedience during the 1960's.

In 1901, Rev. Charles Tindley composed a folk song, "I'll Overcome Some Day," to the tune of the "I'll Be All Right" slave spiritual that was derived from the tune of "O Sanctissima," an 18th-century European hymn. Decades later, during a strike by American Tobacco factory workers in 1945, while on a picket line of African-American workers, Lucille Simmons changed the "I'll overcome" lyric to "We will overcome" or "We shall overcome" and sang the "I'll Overcome Some Day" tune more slowly. And in 1947, as "We Shall Overcome," the new version reached Zilphia Horton at the Highlander Folk School, which trained civil rights movement and labor movement organizers and activists in the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's.

At the Highlander Folk School during the 1950's and early 1960's, folksinger and civil rights movement activist Guy Carawan then taught the "We Shall Overcome" protest folk song to civil rights movement activists and organizers, including those who were members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] in the early 1960's; and Pete Seeger also began to popularize the "We Shall Overcome" protest folk song during the 1950's and early 1960's.

According to Hardeep Phull's 2008 book, Story Behind The Protest Song, in the late 1950's or 1960's "Seeger's manager Harold Leventhal advised" Pete "that a copyright should be taken out on `We Shall Overcome'" and "it was also decided that the proceeds would be donated to...SNCC;" and since "SNCC's demise" in the late 1960's "proceeds go to the Highlander Research and Education Center."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Paul Robeson's UK Interview of January 13, 1960 Revisited

Following is an excerpt from Bob Leeson's article about his 1960 interview with U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson that appeared in the January 14, 1960 issue of the British Daily Worker newspaper:

"When the Daily Worker 30th anniversary celebration takes place in the Albert Hall on March 13 [1960] Paul Robeson will be there.

"In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Worker yesterday...the great Negro singer expressed...his pleasure at being able to attend the paper's birthday...

"`And I want to get down to my study of music...of the teaching of music to children,' he added.

"`In my experience, music should not be thought of as inaccessible to the mass of people. I fell musicians have made a bit of a cult of it. They have convinced many people that to learn about it is like going into the field of atomic physics.

"I feel that modern musicians can solve the problem and get out of the corner they are in by going back to folk music, rather than trying to create a new musical language out of their own brains, for there is a language of folk music which is universal...'"

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Paul Robeson Predicted 1960s U.S. Student Protest Movement In 1955

Five years before African-American students and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] student activists began their mass-based non-violent sit-in protests in opposition to Jim Crow and segregation in the southern region of United States in 1960, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights movement activist Paul Robeson predicted that a student protest movement in the USA would develop. In the May 1955 issue of his Freedom journal, for example, Robeson wrote:

"It is good, these days, to get out to the college campuses and see the stirring of new life among the students. The Ivy Curtain of conformity, which for a decade has shut them off from the sunlight of independent thinking, is beginning to wilt. The fresh breeze of free expression is beginning to filter into the stale atmosphere of the cold-war classrooms...

"Yes, a ferment is growing among America's students, both Negro and white. Many are beginning to see that if a concern for future jobs has dictated conformity, a concern for their very lives requires that they think for themselves..."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Paul Robeson Opposed U.S. Military Intervention In Vietnam In 1950's

Long before a mass-based U.S. anti-war movement against U.S. military intervention in Vietnam developed during the mid-1960's, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights movement/anti-war activist Paul Robeson expressed support for the Vietnamese people's struggle for national independence from foreign domination and full self-determination rights; and he also opposed the U.S. government's policy of providing military aid and militarily intervening in Vietnam in order to perpetuate foreign domination of that country. In an October 4, 1953 speech in Chicago to the Convention of the National Negro Labor Council, for example, Robeson said the following:

"...Will dropping some bombs on Vietnamese patriots who want to be free of French domination help American Negroes reach a plane of equality with their white fellow-citizens?...To ask the question is to answer it. No!...We must not approve the squandering of billions of American taxpayers' money on the `dirty war' in Indo-China--we must insist that the French rule in France and leave the Vietnamese to govern themselves...What Negroes need, and all America needs, is PEACE..."

And in the March 1954 issue of his Freedom journal, Robeson also wrote the following:

"As I write these lines, the eyes of the world are on a country inhabited by 23 million brown-skinned people...It's a fertile land, rich, in minerals; but all the wealth is taken away by the foreign rulers, and the people are poor.

"I'm talking about Vietnam...

"Vast quantities of U.S. bombers, tanks and guns have been sent against Ho Chi Minh and his freedom-fighters; and American GIs into Indo-China in order that the tin, rubber and tungsten of Southeast Asia be kept by the `free world---meaning White Imperialism...

"That's the picture, and I ask again: Shall Negro sharecroppers from Mississippi be sent to shoot down brown-skinned peasants in Vietnam--to serve the interests of those who oppose Negro liberation at home and colonial freedom abroad?

"What are our Negro leaders saying about this? They are all too silent...

"Today, more than ever, is the time for plain speaking.

"Peace can be won if we demand it. The imperialists can be halted in their tracks..." 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Paul Robeson Spoke Out In Support of ANC's Anti-Apartheid Campaign In 1953

In an April 13, 1953 statement, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson expressed solidarity with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa (over 30 years before a mass-based anti-apartheid student campaign for U.S. university divestment of its stock in U.S. corporations that invested in South Africa developed on many U.S. campuses) by saying the following:

"We Colored Americans will especially want to support our African brothers and sisters in South Africa who are now being jailed by the Malan Government for peacefully resisting segregation and discrimination..."

Friday, January 6, 2017

Paul Robeson's December 1952 Letter Revisited

In a December 1952 letter, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson wrote the following:

"...For the past several years a vicious effort has been made to destroy my career. Hall-owners, sponsors and even audiences have been intimidated. Recently, in Chicago, 15,000 persons who wanted to attend one of my concerts had to assemble in a park because the hall-owner had been threatened.

"The outrageous denial of my passport bars me from accepting contracts to appear in England, France, China and many other lands.

"Although I have recorded for nearly every major recording company and sold millions of records both here and abroad, these companies refuse to produce any new recordings for me.

"What is the meaning of this? It is an attempt to gag artistic expression, to dictate whom the people shall hear and what they shall hear. It is an attempt to suppress not only one, but every artist, Negro and white, whose heart and talent are enlisted in the fight for peace and democracy..."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Paul Robeson's July 1952 `Freedom' Journal Article Revisited

In the July 1952 issue of his Freedom journal publication, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson wrote the following:

"The Council on African Affairs called a press conference the other day. It has to do with the present disobedience campaign in South Africa in particular...

"Now, whatever our difficulties and disabilities, the South Africans are even more fiercely oppressed. Pass laws, curfew laws, unbelievable conditions in housing, jobs, all the stigmas of segregation in stations, public places, stores, and so forth.

"So what do they do?...

"They declared on April 6th [1952] their determination to oppose the new oppressive laws--and it started on June 26th [1952]. They refuse to obey Jim Crow and submit to arrest at this stage. Just imagine if we started something like that in the South--or even in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and Los Angeles...

"These South Africans aren't afraid of baiting. They march in thousands with raised clenched fists. They sing their songs of protest...

"And finally, these Africans realize that the old political parties (the so-called Liberals and Conservatives, equivalents of our Democratic and Republican Parties) serve the interests of those who rule, who own. They do not and cannot serve the masses of the people, Black or white. So they have had to form their own Congress and look forward to their own party, springing from themselves and serving the people..."