Soundtrack for a Revolution

Directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman (2009)

This week Māori TV showed the extraordinary documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution about the 1960s civil rights movement. The premise of the film is that black protestors who demonstrated nonviolently to end segregation and win voting rights knew they were risking their lives – but the enduring power of their protest songs gave them the courage to do so.

The film retells the story of the southern civil rights struggle, starting with the with Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ending with Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. It combines great footage of mass meetings and protests, Martin Luther King speeches, commentary by former movement participants and leaders and major protest songs staged in a variety of settings (churches, concerts, mass meetings, etc). It even features a clip from a 1950s propaganda film explaining why Mississippi’s large number (greater than 50%) of Negroes in Mississippi made segregation essential to keep white people safe.

Prior to seeing this documentary, I was unaware of the major economic impact the civil rights movement had on the South. The Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted nearly a year, almost bankrupted the bus company. Likewise Woolworth’s took a major financial hit during the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins (1960). Because black customers occupied all the seats and Woolworth’s refused to serve them, their lunch counters in no revenue for weeks.

The film finishes with a moving tribute to the dozens of civil rights workers murdered by white vigilante violence in most cases anonymously as southern law enforcement – most were never investigated by law enforcement personnel implicated in the killings) during the 13 year struggle.

The film is available at the Māori TV website for the next two weeks: Soundtrack to a Revolution

Comments
  1. Another one to add to my watch list. Thanks for sharing.

  2. They really show some great radical history on Maori TV. I would recommend you watch it within the next few days (or you can rent from Amazon for 99 cents). Two weeks is just a guestimate. They make take it down before them.

  3. No thanks! I’ll pass on this one! With the way I feel, I don’t need any help.

    What many of us have been saying is that we need to do more than just walk down the street with a protest sign, we need to starve the beast like those back in the 60s did. The only change that’s going to take place is if we hit them on their bottom line. That is all the power brokers understand. They don’t care about sit-ins, marches and signs. What’s that doing to them? Not a damn thing. Because right after that protest, we head right inside a store and keep the beast called, “Capitalism” working. The only reason people are not buying as much as they used to is not because we are boycotting, but because we are broke. There is a difference and this fact is well known. We cannot maintain a sustained movement. We only have fits and starts and then it’s over in a week or so. That accomplishes nothing. And since we won’t do what we need to do, we’ll just continue to bellyache about our plight.

    We should not be paying mortgages and rent and electric bills and the like and those who do stop paying mortgages and rent and electric bills are the homeless and this is why homelessness has now been defined as a ‘crime’ and as such is being handled by the ‘For Profit Prison Industrial Complex’. We have homeless tent cities here and when the city decides to run them off, they send city workers in to tear down the tents and haul them away. The city workers have stated ‘on air’ that they don’t like doing it, but it is their job.

    I quite struggle with myself because in many ways, I want to get off the grid and starve this beast, but it would take more than me to make an impact and enough of us doing this is not going to happen and that’s a fact.

    • To be honest, Shelby, my sense is that this documentary is primarily aimed at Europeans who are woefully ignorant of civil rights history. When I left the US 15 years ago, it was my impression that African Americans had a fairly sound knowledge of their history – though this may have changed.

      I fully agree with the strategy of starving the beast as you propose – that’s really the only solution.

      It’s my impression that with a few civil rights victories under his belt, Martin Luther King was beginning to challenge the War in Vietnam and capitalism itself – that this was the main reason the US government had him killed.

      • I agree with you as well in regards to Dr. King because I too, had heard that he was becoming more forceful in his arguments about what was necessary to bring about lasting change and that ‘peaceful’ this and ‘peaceful’ that wasn’t getting it done. He may not have been turning into another Malcolm X, but he was turning into more of a ‘militant’ than he had been. And so with the two most fearless and strongest leaders of that era dead, the movement died with them and to my eyes, will never again be reborn.

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