'The Civil Rights Movement'

Kaufman, William orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5206-647X (2021) 'The Civil Rights Movement'. In: The World of Bob Dylan. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, pp. 239-250. ISBN 9781108583398

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Bob Dylan’s interest in civil rights is conventionally traced to his Greenwich Village girlfriend, Suze Rotolo. The leftist daughter of communists, she worked as a secretary at the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) office in the midst of Freedom Summer, thus introducing Dylan to the civil rights movement. Just months later, Dylan performed “The Death of Emmett Till” before a CORE benefit, beginning a rich songwriting period that featured “Blowin’ in the Wind” (set to tune from “No More Auction Block,” an anti-slavery spiritual), and “Oxford Town” (referencing James Meredith). “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (based on a news story about the death of a black barmaid at the hands of a wealthy white man) and “Who Killed Davey Moore” (about a black boxer who died after a brutal match) deepened his association with civil rights and led to his performance at the Freedom March in Washington, D.C. in 1963 and then for a Greenwood Mississippi voter registration rally. Yet by 1964, Dylan largely stepped away from activism—though his interests would be rekindled periodically in songs like “Hurricane” and “George Jackson.” This chapter will consider the importance of the civil rights movement to shaping Dylan’s early compositions and establishing him as the voice of his generation, as well as examining why he ultimately found protest songs artistically constraining.

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