It’s not unusual for folks to turn to music when seeking a way to express their rage against oppression. During the civil rights movement of the sixties led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the song ‘We Shall Overcome’ was transformed from a gospel ditty to a freedom anthem. This weekend it was Kendrick Lamar’s hit ‘Alright’ which was enlisted as a protest song against police brutality.
The drama unfolded after the Black Lives Matter conference in Cleveland. At some point a confrontation ensued between the attendees and the police which ended up with the arrest of a 14 year-old boy. The protestors in turn locked arms and tried to prevent the vehicle which was carrying him leave. The police resorted to pepper spray in an attempt to disperse them. And somewhere in the melee someone broke into the Alright chorus and the crowd picked it up.
Unlike Charles Albert Tindley who first created ‘I’ll Overcome Someday’ as a hymn to encourage himself and other believers, Alright was always rebelling against the status quo.
“When you know, we’ve been hurt been down before, nigga, when our pride was low looking at the world like where do we go, nigga? And we hate popo, when they kill us dead in the street for sure,” is how the song’s hook starts.
There are clear references to the historic injustices African-Americans have had to battle with for decades, now manifesting itself in excessive use of force by the police. It’s no secret that the happenings at Ferguson and other cities inspired Kendrick’s rant. So while the two songs were born under different circumstances, they have both come together to echo Martin Luther’s exhortation “Let freedom ring!”
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