Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Through Music & Words

For the first time in a long time, Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels like more than an excuse to get out of school.

For myself, personally, that is. I’m a white girl from a suburban town. I live in a state that, up until 2000, made King share his day with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I didn’t really think about Martin Luther King Jr. often. I’d be willing to bet a lot of this country shared my sentiments.

But these past few years are different. Between the never-ending news reports, the online social movement that’s growing, and the ever present racial discussions that have settled upon our country, Martin Luther King Jr. Day suddenly seems more important than ever.

As social movements grow and activists are born, our nation is remembering the long and rich history of the Civil Rights movement—a memory and event that is classified as “history.” It’s past tense. It is not present. But recent history has shown us that it is still very much present. Protests around the nation over the past year remind us that the march on Washington D.C is not that far behind us.

While today’s activists use social media as their rallying point, our parents and grandparents had a different tool for coming together: song.

Music played a key role in the Civil Rights movement, pulling inspiration from the rich history of African American music and serving as a rallying cry.

“Jazz speaks for life,” King said. “The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties—and, if you think for a moment, you realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.”

Enjoy this Martin Luther King Jr. Day playlist, complete with snippets from his speeches and civil rights era songs.

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