Black History - An Exploration of Music As an Expression of Civil Rights

Black History – An Exploration of Music As an Expression of Civil Rights

Music as a form of activism within African American culture is a phenomenon that has no parallel in human history. Never before have an oppressed community been able to speak past their oppressors and to their oppressors’ children. A persecuted culture proved to a world that they could be spiritual, that they could be beautiful, that they could be geniuses, and still that wasn’t enough. For too many, it seems that the only sound that gets a response is the sound of shattering glass.

Taken from a radio show I did for black history month a couple of years ago, this selection considers decades of activism in music from the Black Panther era of the 70s, conscious rap from 90s, up to the Black Lives Matter movement. The selection at times feels joyful and hopeful, making it harder to process how little has changed.

Camille Yarbrough – But It Comes Out Mad
Syl – Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black?
The Whatnauts – Message From a Black Man
Curtis Mayfield – Stare and Stare
Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted, and Black
The Last Poets – When the Revolution Comes
Frankie Cutlass – Puerto Rico/ Black People
Public Enemy – Brother’s Gonna Work It Out (Remix)
Boogie Down Productions – The Racist
Big Daddy Kane feat. Gamilah Shabazz (Malcolm X’s Daughter) – Who Am I?
Brand Nubian – Allah & Justice
De La Soul – I Am I Be
Arrested Development – Raining Revolution
Erykah Badu – The Healer
Jamila Woods feat NoName – VRY BLK
Mick Jenkins feat. BADBADNOTGOOD – Drowning (I Can’t Breathe)
Blood Orange – JUNE 12TH (For Sandra Bland)
Saul Williams – Sha Clack Clack
Houz Mon – Intro: King 28 Years Later
Bama the Village Poet – Blackman My Brother
Rahsaan Roland Kirk – Blacknuss
Sam Dees – Heritage of a Black Man
Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On the Moon
Dr. Mary Sullivan Bain – Do You Know Black History?
Trinikas – Black is Beautiful
YG & Nipsey Hussle – Fuck Donald Trump

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As someone whose adolescence was so immersed in the sort of revolutionary music featured in the above mix, there was always a sense of impotence that came with being so inspired to join the revolution, but having no ability to do so. That isn’t totally the case now that the internet empowers anyone inclined to help fund the people who are in a position to make a difference from within the affected communities.

I have included a selection of BLM organizations in the post and I encourage those who are able to donate the cost of an album to help realize the social change at the heart of this music.


black voters matter

An important attempt to correct the plainly evil efforts by the Republican party to disenfranchise black voters, which is somehow legal and done in the open. The organization advocates for policies to expand voting rights/access. They also advocate for policies that intersect with race, gender, economic, and other aspects of equity.​


law project

BMLP provides legal support to local communities throughout the country as they demonstrate against police brutality and systemic racism. They believe in a community centered approach – providing holistic legal and technical service with an understanding that mass defense movement legal experience is often missing from the local equation.


racial justice

SURJ’s role as part of a multi-racial movement is to undermine white support for white supremacy and to help build a racially-just society.That work cannot be done in isolation from or disconnected from the powerful leadership of communities of color. It is one part of a multi-racial, cross-class movement centering the leadership of people of color.


health alliance

The Black Health Alliance is a community-led registered charity working to improve the health and well-being of Black communities in Canada. Driven by groundbreaking research, strong partnerships, and people, this movement continues to build innovative solutions to improve Black health and well-being, and mobilize people and financial resources to create lasting change in the lives of Black children, families, and communities.