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Civil Rights Road Trip: Payton on the power of music

Thacarion Payton — Day 2 of our trip began with the group meeting Dr. Bonnette-Bailey at Georgia State University. She talked to us about “political rap” and how it affects the listener’s thoughts on various topics including feminism and black nationalism.

Typically, I listen to music as a way to escape daily happenings. However, listening to Dr. Bonnette helped me come to a greater realization that a lot of the music I enjoy highlights many of my daily struggles as a Black man in America. She focused on some mainstream rappers, like 21 Savage, that are most known for the negativity in their songs. This was interesting because the song that Dr. Bonnette chose was able to humanize 21 Savage in a way that his popular music could not. The struggles that rap artists experience, which influence their music, are usually glossed over The song, “Nothin New,” touched on issues of the government flooding Black communities with drugs during the Reagan Era and disenfranchisement.

While Dr. Bonnette focused on the outward effects of rap on those listening, Dr. Richard Allen Farmer of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church talked about how Black music is influenced by other cultures. He spoke on how the Black church will take an “anglo” song and add to it because it does not “move” enough. He stressed the importance of knowing that one version is not better than another, but relates differently culture to culture.

Overall, today reminded me of the communicative power of music. Rap, Gospel, and other forms of African American music, can be used to send various messages. Whether the music communicates fun and leisure or information and critique, it delivers messages that help progress social and political movements in positive directions. It’s only Day 2, but I feel that the remainder of our trip will open my eyes (and ears) more and assist me in better understanding how music influences my everyday judgements.


Civil Rights Road Trip: Reflections of trip by Mettler

Charles Mettler ’18 — While listening to Dr. Bonnette speak on her research, I found her approach to studying politically charged hip hop interesting. I myself have always been very fond of what’s called “conscious rap” and I was most excited to hear Dr. Bonnette speak on it. While I have been aware of political hip hop’s existence (for lack of a better term), I had not actually considered whether it was an effective form of political or social conscious-raising, or whether it was measurable. Of course, Dr. Bonnette does do this and it intrigued me that she was applying social scientific methods to it. Does political rap music influence the political attitudes of the listener? For me, it does. Some of the views I hold now have been inspired by such music. Is political hip hop influential for people that are ideologically distant from its message or who don’t like hip hop? Maybe. This is a testable question that I think Dr. Bonnette is prepared to answer, using science. The point is, I think it’s fantastic that she is using science to answer questions like this.

I felt her ideas and questions begged a larger question about the hip hop tradition. Aren’t politically charged lyrics a defining character of hip hop? I felt she took a long path to coming to this assertion. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to state this outright (maybe she does, I haven’t read her book yet). This evokes another response I had to her talk. Dr. Bonnette put rightfully strong emphasis on the fact that we often claim that hip hop is no longer politically conscious, unlike its roots. She points out that this is false, and in fact most of not all rap artists engage in politically motivated music at some point in their career. What this means and how it relates to my question at the beginning of this paragraph is the recognition that socially and politically charged music is a foundational element of hip hop. Therefore, the reason we see these themes in hip hop is because it is a part of its basis. In her own words, “it’s the voice of the voiceless.”

Overall, I would like to emphasize a few things about my reflection. First, I commend and admire Dr. Bonnette’s use of the scientific method to answer interesting questions about hip hop. Second, I think her questions regarding political hip hop’s effects upon the listener are good questions, and novel, at least to me, considering I fancy myself a fan of political hip hop. Third, she begged an important question regarding hip hop’s origins: if political rap lyrics are so ubiquitous, is it not safe to assume that it was a foundational point for the genre? I choose to reflect on this final point because I think it is often overlooked and underrepresented in the study of hip hop.


Nashville; an interesting case to Ward

Ian Ward ’19 – Today, I along with my classmates visited Nashville, as well as the site of the Highlander school. There was a sense of new understanding, as well as a curiosity and even a sense of awe.

This new understanding was in the realm of me knowing that Nashville was in fact traditionally very segregated, and only after local campaigns and action did substantive change occur. What I mean by this, is that up until a change in policy in November 1960 Nashville was very segregated, and its mayor stood by the policy as just and legal, as well as the way things needed to be. Due to this stance, locals began to conduct peaceful sit-ins in early 1960 and over a period of many months public pressure mounted to the level that lunch counters were desegregated. This new understanding also included in learning about the mastermind of the Nashville movement: James Lawson. This former divinity student with a deep understanding of Gandhi – like protest styles took the lead in teaching non-violent principles to locals and helped the movement become the success that is was.

This learning of Lawson led me to curiosity in the aspect that I have never heard of him in common literature, and outside the Nashville Movement his role seems more behind the scenes. Why? I can’t answer that particular question, however it seems that like many that weren’t the pillars of the Civil Rights Movement, our education system seems to overlook the many and focus on the few that are very recognizable, and at least in theory “easier” to explain.

My awe in Nashville regarding the civil Rights Movement began when, we were able to see a site of a sit in (what was then and is now) a Walgreens. Seeing a place where history happened gives what we have read about more of a purpose. It also makes you realize that behind all the images, the actions that made up the Civil Rights Movement did happen in all of its glory for African Americans and shame for the oppressors. Also, we were able to see the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library where one quote by Martin Luther King Jr. really sums up the movement in Nashville – “I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.” This quote struck me in the aspect that it highlights Nashville’s not only independence from the larger movement, but also highlighted the success of Nashville and that Non-Violence was the way to go to succeed

From Nashville, we stopped briefly at the Highlander Folk School Site, where it is clear that there were in fact that secluded, and also that it is a serene place for learning and contemplation in such a tumultuous time. This is what I personally gathered from day one of Wally on Wheels and I only know that from here my experience will only get better.


Malone Experiences Civil Rights Movement

Rogeno Malone ’20 – Today marked the commencement of the ‘Wally on Wheels’ immersion trip through the south – we traversed through Tennessee and ultimately stopped in Georgia. Throughout the day I have reflected on two experiences and their implications to Civil Rights.

The first, a lunch with Ben Whitehouse, class of ’99, who is currently investigating legal documents from the Highlander Folk School. Highlander was conceived in Tennessee with the vision of building leaders of tomorrow. Highlander equipped it’s students with a social consciousness foreign to the community around it. Additionally, the school exemplified diversity – diverse thought, race, gender, etc. What I discovered from Whitehouse was that the school was investigated and later closed due to negligible charges; furthermore, the community degraded the school’s name with heinous allegations.

What I struggled to comprehend from this interaction was the backlash of the community. Albeit conceived during a period of increased racial tension in the country, Highland produced good.

Civil Rights demonstrators, community leaders, and single-issue activists can trace their non-violent tactics back to the school. Highlander sought to inspire and change the ideologies of students such that their focus shifted from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ I believe this encounter with Whitehouse introduced me to the severity of institutional racism present during the Civil Rights era.

The second, a trip to Fisk University – specifically speaking with Dr. Kwami about the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Before the trip my class, the History of African American Music, learned of the Jubille Singers. This small group of singers, formed mid-19th century, sought to support their institution financially through singing on tours. Initially they were met with backlash; yet, once they performed songs pertinent to their culture – spirituals, their success grew along with their ability to support Fisk. Hearing Dr. Kwami expand on the history of the singers left me in a sense of awe, I am astounded how students my age fearlessly spread their culture to potentially, unreceptive ears.

Overall, I believe that both experiences connect to a theme regarding the Civil Rights Movement and this trip – commitment. It has been theorized that you are invested in a cause if you are willing to die for it. Examples such as Martin Lither King Jr., Highlander students, and the Jubilee singers exemplify this point through their commitment to what they believed, a commitment to justice and change.


Civil Rights Road Trip: David Ortega ’20

Sign at location of Nashville Sit-in during Civil Rights Movement

Sign at location of Nashville Sit-in during Civil Rights Movement

David Ortega ’20 – Our immersion trip began with a brief tour of Nashville, TN by a Wabash alumnus. The alumnus spoke about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and how Nashville was at the time. Immediately, we witnessed pieces of history from the movement still present. The group walked passed a Walgreens that is open and running, which was also open during the CRM. The Walgreens was also where a sit-in took place in 1960 when Walgreens had a lunch counter. The establishment that used to openly support segregation serves as a reminder to present day society of the tensions felt less than a hundred years ago. After, our group went to Capitol Grounds, where we saw monuments and memorials. The most surprising part of this experience was the giant statue commemorating Edward Carmack, who is best known for driving Ida B Wells out of town. Primarily, I had never considered Tennessee as part of the South. Regardless of Tennessee having segregation issues during the CRM, I do not understand the necessity of keeping up the statue of Edward Carmack and hope that it can be removed. We then went to a library in town that has a section dedicated to the civil rights era. It was here we watched a documentary further explaining the sit-ins that occurred in Tennessee and the societal relations of the time. It was an amazing opportunity to observe in person the strategic planning and training needed when implementing non-violent marches that receive violence in return out of racial hate. This made me debate about how the location of Tennessee played a factor in the amount of violence used by white officers and police compared to town in Mississippi. Regardless of the severity, it amazed me how active college students were in the CRM regardless of advice and demand of authorities or parents.