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Amy Goodman

Voices of resistance sing on

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Strong voices for peace have left us this year, people who used their art for social change, often at a high personal price.

Odetta was a legendary folk singer of the civil-rights movement.

Considered the “Queen of American Folk Music,” Odetta introduced audiences worldwide to African-American folk, blues and gospel music.

New Year’s Eve was her birthday. She would have been 78. When Rosa Parks was asked which songs meant the most to her, she replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”

Odetta sang “Oh, Freedom,” an African-American slave spiritual, at the 1963 March on Washington. Early on, she attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger. Her voice, her talent with the guitar and the natural style in which she maintained her hair—later to be dubbed “afro”—set her as an icon of the civil-rights movement. She told an interviewer in 2003:

“When I first started, I would sing these prison songs ... it got to a point where doing the music actually healed me ... it was music from those who went before. The music gave them strength, and the music gave us strength to carry it on.”

She inspired Bernice Johnson Reagon, an early member of the SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Singers. She had been suspended from college in Albany, Ga., for civil-rights protests, then went on to Spelman College, where historian Howard Zinn and his wife, Roz, brought her to folk-music concerts by Joan Baez and Odetta.

Reagon recalls the first time she heard Odetta:

“In Georgia, where I grew up in the country, the roads were built by chain-gang labor. I knew the sound, because as the men worked, they sang. But I never thought I’d hear it coming from a concert stage ... when she sang prison songs or work songs. ... She was just what I needed to begin my life as a freedom fighter and as a Freedom Singer.”

Reagon later went on to found the women’s a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Another great liberation singer we lost this year was Miriam Makeba of South Africa, known as “Mama Afrika.” She sang against apartheid, then went into exile for decades. Belafonte also helped her gain recognition.

In 1968, she married SNCC-leader-turned-Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, for which she was blacklisted in the U.S. until the 1980s.

Soon after her death, I asked the Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu about Makeba. The South African archbishop smiled: “Her singing, her voice, helped many people to know a little bit more about the vicious apartheid system. She was just a tremendous human being, a great loss to us and to Africa.”

Also blacklisted in 1968 was singer and actress Eartha Kitt, who died at age 81 on Christmas Day. In 1968, she was invited to a celebrity luncheon at the White House by Lady Bird Johnson, who asked Kitt about urban poverty. Kitt replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.” The first lady reportedly burst into tears. For years afterward, Kitt performed almost exclusively overseas and was investigated by the FBI and CIA.

Born out of the Deep South and South Africa, these women’s voices sang out, from concert halls to protest rallies. Another voice we just lost sang out from the written page. Harold Pinter died on Christmas Eve in London. Though too sick to travel to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, he sent a video address: “The majority of politicians ... are interested not in truth but in power. ... To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance. ... What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies.” Pinter was referring to U.S. policy from Guantanamo to Iraq.

As these icons are laid to rest, their voices continue to inspire millions. Barack Obama will soon take the reins of the most powerful nation on Earth, promising change. But it will now take the actions of those millions, heeding these echoes of the past and transforming them into their own voices, to effect real change.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column. Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

ICU
Past Columns
Produce the note

February 4, 2009

A long train ride

January 21, 2009

Israeli voices for peace

January 7, 2009

Bush and the monkey wrench guy

December 23, 2008

A tale of two Nobel nations

December 9, 2008

A view from the South

November 19, 2008

Unchaining history

November 5, 2008

Election protection

October 29, 2008

Invasion of the Sea-Smurfs

October 8, 2008

Wall Street socialists

September 18, 2008

The party police

September 10, 2008

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit County

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit County

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Bellingham

Twelfth Night

7:00pm| Sehome Little Theatre

Butt Kapinski

7:30pm| Sylvia Center for the Arts

Student Veteran Conference

8:00am|Settlemyer Hall

Spring Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Deming Library

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Northwest Wine Encounter

4:00pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Aristokittens

6:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Celebrating in Song

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Celebrating in Song

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall and Brodniak Hall

Lifeguards and Pirates

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Have a Heart Run

8:00am|Edgewater Park

Community Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Lynden Community Center

Birchwood Garden Club Plant Sale

9:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Independent Bookstore Day

9:00am|Village Books

Anacortes Spring Vintage Show

9:00am|Port Transit Event Center

Art in the Garden

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Putting the ‘happy’ in Happy Valley

9:00am

WWU Queer Comics Convention

10:00am|Academic West Building

Backyard Habitat & Native Flora Fair

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Issaquah Singers

10:30am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Landscape Staging

11:00am|Ferndale Library

Landscape Planning

11:00am|Azusa Farm & Gardens

People's Climate March

11:00am|Maritime Heritage Park

Run for the Bees

11:00am|BelleWood Acres

Images of resilience

12:00pm

Community Art Museum Day

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Citizen Scientists

12:00pm|Birch Bay State Park, Padilla Bay Reserve

Skagit Topic

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

Twelfth Night

2:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Artists Talk

4:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Crush Cancer Fundraiser

6:00pm|Hampton Inn's Fox Hall

Giant's Causeway

6:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Painting Party

6:30pm|Stoneycreek Glassware

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

The Sweet Goodbyes

7:00pm|Center for Spiritual Living

Skagit Symphony's Classics Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

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Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit County

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit County

Northwest Wine Encounter

4:00pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall and Brodniak Hall

Celebrating in Song

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Celebrating in Song

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Citizen Scientists

12:00pm|Birch Bay State Park, Padilla Bay Reserve

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Tire Recycling Event

9:00am|Birch Bay-Lynden Box Facility & Recycling Center

Children's Day/Book Day

1:00pm|Lynden Library

Mockingbird

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Tanka Poetry

4:00pm|Village Books

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Spring Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen

King's Men of Song

7:00pm|Hope in Christ Church

Help! I'm American!

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove
Monday
Children's Book Week

9:00am|Village Books

Poetry Workshop with Tod Marshall

6:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm| Bell Tower Studios

Dahlia 101 Presentation

7:00pm|Laurel Community Grange

poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Swing Dance

8:00pm|Eagles Hall

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