"Which Side Are You On?" Protest Song (Sung During The 1960s-1970s African American Civil Rights Movement) - Bag Avatof Anonymous - Latest Quotes Photos

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

"Which Side Are You On?" Protest Song (Sung During The 1960s-1970s African American Civil Rights Movement)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a three part pancocojams series on the protest song "Which Side Are You On?".

"Which Side Are You On?" is a song written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Part II of this series presents examples of 1960s and 1970s United States Civil Rights (African American protests) examples of "Which Side Are You On?".

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/07/origin-of-labor-protest-song-which-side.html for Part I of this series presents information about the origin of "Which Side Are You On?". The original lyrics for this song and a YouTube example of Natalie Merchant singing a cover of this song are included in this post.

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/07/post-1970s-non-labor-movement-examples.html for Part III of this series. Part III presents information about and a few examples of "Which Side Are You On?" being sung during post 1970s non-Labor movement protests in the United States.

The content of this post is presented for historical and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Florence Reece, the composer of this song, for her musical legacy. Thanks all those who sang and are still singing "Which Side Are You On" in their protests for labor rights and civil rights.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Excerpt #1:
From https://longreads.com/2018/08/29/history-of-american-protest-music-which-side-are-you-on/ A History of American Protest Music: Which Side Are You On? By Tom Maxwell, 8/29/2018
"Just as we were in the 1930s and ’60s, America is suffering a moral crisis. We have to decide which side we are on: hate and exclusion, or justice, inclusion, and democracy?

...[Florence] Reece couldn’t have known that what she created would become the most durable anthem of the labor movement, and a template for protest songs for decades to come. “Which Side Are You On?,” written from acute personal trauma, has been universalized, both in lyric and musical modality. After making its way out of Harlan County and into a New York recording studio, it got modified to fit the message of countless underdog protagonists.


The Freedom Singers, a group formed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1962, rewrote the lyric to reflect their Civil Rights struggle.

Come all you Negro people, lift up your voices and sing

Will you join the Ku Klux Klan or Martin Luther King?

They certainly employed, to great effect, the Almanac Singers’ call and response arrangement, bringing altogether more church into the proceedings.

Len Chandler, a topical singer from Greenwich Village who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, wrote his own version:

Come all you Northern liberals, take a Klansman out to lunch

But when you dine, instead of wine, you should serve nonviolent punch
Here's information about The Almanac Singers"
"The Almanac Singers was an American New York City-based folk music group, active between 1940 and 1943, founded by Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie. The group specialized in topical songs, mostly songs advocating an anti-war, anti-racism and pro-union philosophy."...

Excerpt #2
From https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=50836 https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=50836
[with numbers added for referencing purposes only)
1. Subject: Versions of 'Which Side Are You On?'
From: JohnnyBGoode
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 07:57 PM

"Wondering about versions of "Which Side are You On?" by Florence Reese, especially it being adapted to various circumstances..."

2. Subject: RE: Versions of 'Which Side Are You On?'
From: Janice in NJ
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 09:15 PM

"Way down in Hinds County,
No neutrals have I met,
You either are a freedom man,
Or a Tom for Ross Barnett.

--- Mississippi, early 1960s

Ross Barnett was the state governor who, among other things, tried to halt the desegregation of Ole Miss. That incident inspired Bob Dylan's Oxford Town. Today Ross Barnett has a reservoir named after him."

3. Subject: RE: Versions of 'Which Side Are You On?'
From: Charley Noble
Date: 31 Aug 02 - 02:23 PM

"One of my verses, composed back in the 1970's, which unfortunately is not obsolete runs:

We've fought in many a battle,
We're not done fighting yet;
As long as injustice roams this land,
We never shall forget!

Charley Noble"

4. Subject: Lyr Add: WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? (James Farmer)
From: masato sakurai
Date: 27 Aug 02 - 12:24 AM

"As a Civil Rights movement song (a stanza being quoted by Janice in NJ above) from Guy & Candie Carawan, Sing for Freedom (Sing Out, 1990, p. 45). Recording is on Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs (Smithsonian Folkways 40032).

Original verses by Florence Reese, new verses by James Farmer (CORE).
"I rewrote the old labor song by Florence Reece 'Which Side Are You On?' on the spur of the moment in the Hinds County Jail, after the Freedom Riders who were imprisoned there had been discussing and speculating about the attitude of local Negroes regarding the freedom Riders. We had learned through trustees in the jail that most local Negroes were with u, but afraid to do anything because of fear of reprisals. They told us that, of course, there were a lot of Uncle Toms around and it was hard to tell who was and who was not." -- James Farmer

Come all you freedom lovers, and listen while I tell
Of how the freedom riders came to Jackson to dwell.

Oh, which side are you on, boys,
Which side are you on, (tell me)
Which side are you on, boys,
Which side are you on.

My daddy was a freedom fighter and I'm a freedom son
I'll stick right with this struggle until the battle's won.

Don't 'tom for Uncle Charlie', don't listen to his lies
'Cause black folks haven't got a chance until they organize.

They say in Hinds County, no neutrals have they met
You're either for the Freedom Ride or you 'tom' for Ross Barnett.

Oh people can you stand it, tell me how you can
Will you be an Uncle Tom or will you be a man?

Captain Ray will holler 'move on', but the Freedom Riders won't budge
They'll stand there in the ternimnals and even before the judge."
I added spacings in this comment to better reflect the different verses.

"CORE" = "Congress Of Racial Equality", a leading Civil Rights organization. Click https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/congress-of-racial-equality for information about CORE.

SHOWCASE YOUTUBE SOUND FILE- Which Side Are You On? (Civil Rights Version)

Various Artists – Topic, Published on May 30, 2015

Provided to YouTube by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Which Side Are You On? (Civil Rights Version) · The Freedom Voices with Len Chandler

WNEW's Story of Selma

℗ 2004 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings / 1965 Folkways Records

Released on: 1965-01-01
-snip-hThis sound file should more accurately be titled "One Civil Rights version, as multiple versions of "Which Side Are You On?" were sung during Civil Rights protests in the 1960s and 1870s (United States).

This sound file appears to be an interview with Lee Chandler and Cordell ? which was conducted for this recording by a man.

Here's my transcript of this sound file. Italics means I'm not sure about my transcription and "?" means that I couldn't understand which words are spoken or sung. Other possible words for one line of this song are given in brackets.

Notice that the lead singer sings one of these (probably improvised) interjections before the beginning of lines in the chorus:
“Won’t you tell me now"

"I wanna hear you now

"Everybody now”

“You betta tell me now”

“I wanna know now”

“You really got to tell me”

One person (the lead singer?) also sings the phrase "Well, well, well" at the end of one of the lines of this song.

Information about some of the references in this song are given below the transcription. Addition and corrections to this transcription and/or these explanations are welcome.

-Man speaking (interviewer?) -"In the march, this could go on for 20-25 minutes. I remember hearing a verse:

Come on all you good people
worried about being fat
A day on Route 80
Would take care of that

Lee Chandler - That’s a modification of some verses that I wrote.

Man speaking (interviewer?) -Would you start that verse off?

Chandler - Yeah, um some verses that I wrote for “Which Side Are You On” and Cordell and I sing that song all over Mississippi. And I asked a kid that I heard do that -um um one of the kids on the march, where did he get that verse. And he said “I don’t know. I heard it somewhere. I don’t know where it came from.”

Come all you bougeosie Black men
With all your excess fat
A few days in the county jail
Will sure get rid of that

Won't you tell me, now
Which side are you on, boys
Which side are you on
I wanna know now, which side are you on, boys
Which side are you on.

Come all you freedom fighters
A story I will tell
‘Cause I’m down in prison [right down in prison?; I’m down in prison?]
In a lonesome jail cell


Come all you Uncle Toms
Take that hankie from your head
Forget your fears and shed a tear
For the life of shame you’ve led

Don’t talk ‘bout Mr. Charlie
Don’t listen to his lies
'Cause we vote Cause we have a chance
Whenever we organize

You need not join the picket line
If you can’t stand the blows
But join your dimes with dollars
Or be counted on with our foes

Come all you high tone college grads
Announce your final G
But don’t forget your old grandma
She’s still scrubbin on her knees

Have you heard about the paddywagon
If you stand up for your rights
It’ll take you for a ride.

I heard that the Klu Klux Klan
They stop dyin their sheets
And now they sing about freedom
Every time they meet

(given in alphabetical order)
blows - violence (including hitting with fists)

bourgeoisie- (standard definition) "the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes." https://www.google.com/search?q=bourgeoisie&oq=bourgeorise&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5.1550j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

African American definition; people who act stuck up (siddity); middle class people who think they are better than working class people. Note that a common African American pronunciation for "bourgeoisie" is something like "boog-zhwah".

G - [test; class] grades

high tone- a rarely used descriptor that is the same as the African American definition for "bourgeoisie"

freedom fighters - 1960s and 1970s referent for Civil Rights activists [people who are "fighting for Black people's civil rights by marching ("demonstrating") and other non-violent strategies)

Klu Klux Klan - A White supremist hate group in the USA that was formed in the late 19th century and still exist today (in 2019). Klu Klux Klan members are known for wearing white sheets and pointed hats that cover their face.

Mr. Charlie - a 1970s' informal referent for the White man

paddy wagon- police wagon

Uncle Tom
From https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Uncle%20Tom
"Definition of Uncle Tom (Entry 1 of 2)
1 disparaging : a black person who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals)
2 disparaging : a person who is overly subservient to or cooperative with authority
the worst floor managers and supervisors by far are women … Some of them are regular Uncle Toms
— Jane Fonda"
The referent "Uncle Tom" came from the name of a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin>".

In the 1960 and 1970s, the female referent "Aunt Jemima" had the same meaning as "Uncle Tom". The character "Aunt Jemima" was created by a White business man to sell his packaged pancakes. The use of "Aunt Jemima" as an insulting referent eventually died out and "Uncle Tom" began to be used for females and males. One remnant of the "Aunt Jemima" referent was the custom of portraying "Uncle Tom" wearing a scarf (handkerchief) tied in the front of his head similar to the one that the Aunt Jemima character wore. Indeed, another disparaging name for "Uncle Tom" was "handkerchief head".

Later depictions and real life portrayals of "Aunt Jemima" had her wearing her head scarf (bandana) tied in the back. Even later depictions of Aunt Jemima (on pancake packages) showed her without any head scarf because that had become too stereotypical. I believe that the "handkerchief head" referent was retired because some Black gang members and some rappers (such as Tupac) routinely wore head scarfs, and these men were decidedly not Uncle Toms. Also, a lot of African Americans wear head scarfs at night to protect our hair and/or our hair styles which is another reason why the term "handkerchief head" was retired.

Click http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/onstage/performin/tomjemimahp.html for a brief article about the characters Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom.

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