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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee And The Civil Rights Movement

1559 words - 6 pages

The 1960s were crucial to the advancement toward racial equality for the United States. The Civil Rights Movement, which began around 1955, made the majority of its progress during the 1960s through the many different civil rights organizations that were established during this time. One group in particular, known as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, became extremely influential in the fight against racial discrimination. SNCC protesters organized freedom rides and sit-ins and created protest songs in an attempt to sway the public toward the belief that blacks were equal to Whites and that they should be treated as such. The SNCC protesters sang songs such as “Which Side Are You On?” in order to rally their audience to their cause by stirring emotional responses by asking “which side” they are on. The song is sung by many backup singers, but has one main vocalist, and is reminiscent of a gospel choir (which is generally associated with an African-American style). “Which Side Are You On?” attempts to force its audience to take a stance on civil rights, but hints at ridicule if one chooses to side against the movement through insults such as “boy” “Uncle Tom” and “tom”, and by mentioning “Chief Pritchett” and “Mayor Kelly”, key figures in the local government and law enforcement of Albany, Georgia at this time, in a bad light.
“Which Side Are You On?” is trying to target those who have not yet taken action in the Civil Rights Movement, but seems to be really focused getting those African-Americans who have not yet spoken out against the injustice through the gospel choir style of singing. The gospel singing style is very effective in motivating the congregation during a church service, and that is most likely why this style is used for “Which Side Are You On?” but an underlining motive for the gospel style is to arouse those African-Americans who are familiar with this category of music.
In addition to the classification of music, SNCC's use of derogatory remarks such as “Uncle Tom” and “boy” attempt to persuade the African-American audience even further. Uncle Tom is a derogatory remark, in reference to the book Uncle Tom's Cabin, which is used to classify an African-American man who is subservient to a white man. The singers say “Will you be an Uncle Tom Or will you be a man?” The use of this is meant to instill a sense of shame in those who are silent and offers manhood to those who are willing to join the movement. The tone of the song suggests that they SNCC protesters are operating on the notion of: if you aren't for the movement then you are against it. This mindset offers even more humiliation for those who support the Civil Rights Movement in spirit, but haven't actually done anything to make progress. Repetition of the word “boy” resonates the docile positions of those who wont speak out for what they believe in. For the African-American community, however, this could be seen as an insult because “boy” is what...

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