When we started our family group, The Staple Singers, we started out mostly singing in churches in the south. Pops saw Dr. Martin Luther King speak in 1963 and from there we started to broaden our musical vision beyond just gospel songs. Pops told us, "I like this man. I like his message. And if he can preach it, we can sing it." So we started to write "freedom songs," like "Why Am I Treated So Bad," "When Will We Be Paid for the Work We've Done," "Long Walk to DC," and many others. Like many in the civil rights movement, we drew on the spirituality and the strength from the church to help gain social justice and to try to achieve equal rights.
We became a major voice for the civil rights movement and hopefully helped to make a difference in this country. It was a difficult and dangerous time (in 1965 we spent a night in jail in West Memphis, Arkansas and I wondered if we'd ever make it out alive) but we felt we needed to stand up and be heard.
So for us, and for many in the civil rights movement, we looked to the church for inner strength and to help make positive changes. And that seems to be missing today. Here it is, 2007, and there are still so many problems and social injustices in the world. Well, I tell you we need a change now more than ever, and I'm turning to the church again for strength.
With this record, I hope to get across the same feeling, the same spirit and the same message as we did with the Staple Singers and to hopefully continue to make positive changes. We've got to keep pushing to make the world a better place. Things are better but we're not where we need to be and we'll never turn back. 99 and 1/2 just won't do!
When I listen to this music, it takes me back. It takes me back to the red clay hills of Georgia, to the Black Belt of Alabama, and the Delta of Mississippi. It takes me back to the moans and groans and pains of an oppressed people yearning for freedom. It takes me back to the time when hundreds and thousands of us decided we were "sick and tired of being sick and tired," as Fannie Lou Hamer said. It takes me back to the days when ordinary people inspired by a dream decided to quench our hunger and thirst for justice in the fountains of mercy and love.
Back then, some people thought legalized segregation in America would never come to an end. But those of us in the Civil Rights Movement were inspired by a higher calling. And even if it cost us our very lives, "we weren't gone to let nobody turn us `round". We believed that the action of peace, the way of non-violence, and the power of love could overcome our oppression and remind our oppressors of their own humanity. Through the power of this faith our nation witnessed a non-violent revolution of values, a revolution of ideas that changed America forever.
The music you are listening to right now was the soul of that revolution. It was this music that gave us hope when it seemed like all hope was gone. It was the heartbeat of this music and its steady, reassuring message that bound us together as one solid force. So when we were beaten, arrested and jailed; when we stood together on picket lines or marched through the streets of the Deep South; when we faced the guns drawn, the billy clubs and the bullwhips raised; when we were teargassed, trampled by horses, or scattered by fire hoses, it was these songs that lifted us and pushed us to a higher place.
It is my hope that when you hear Mavis Staples, when you hear the Freedom Singers, and the other artists on this CD, that you too will be inspired. I hope this music will help you find the courage to stand up, speak up, and speak out and answer the call of your own conscience. It is my hope that this music will help you see what ordinary people with extraordinary vision can do when they decide they will never turn back.
- Rep. John Lewis