Required reading and viewing

Week 13. “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom”: Protest Culture of the 60s

Week 13. “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”: Movement Women

  • *Class Playlist [Below]
  • Steinem, Gloria, My Life on the Road (2016)
  • *Ann Margaret, “How Lovely to be a Woman” from Bye Bye Birdie (1960)
  • *Hayden, Casey and King, Mary, “Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo” (1965)
  • Amiri Baraka, Dutchman (1964) [Filmed play below].

Discussion Questions 

  1. After reading Steinem’s book and Feldstein’s article, what do you feel the relationship is between popular culture and movement culture in the United States? What experiences did Nina Simone and Gloria Steinem have in common and where did they diverge in their activism? How did they use culture or get used by movement culture themselves?
  2. What are stereotypes from American racial history and popular culture used in Dutchman?
  3. What differences and similarities do you notice between the Civil Rights songs coming out of the gospel tradition and Negro Spiritual tradition versus newly produced commercial songs?
  4. After reading My Life on the Road, is car culture a part of American popular culture? What does looking at physical movement and travel add to our understanding of movement culture? What new forms of popular culture are represented in this book?
  5. What roles do different generations play in both the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movement as represented in this week’s readings?
  6. There are other crucial movements in the 1960s like the Grapes Boycott that are not universally identified with music. Why are some movements synonymous with sound and others are not?
  7. What constitutes a movement? Leaders? The people? And what part does popular culture play in movements?
  8. Gloria Steinem advocates for the conversation. How do we apply this in the internet age?

Civil Rights Protest Culture & Black Arts Movement 

Dutchman (written for the stage in 1964 and adapted into a film in 1967, one year before Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage). Here is a PDF of the play’s text if you would like to read along as you watch. 

Gospel Civil Rights Songs

Fannie Lou Hamer, an African American woman from Mississippi, worked as a sharecropper before becoming a civil rights activist. She was also known as a forceful gospel singer who lead marches and prayer meetings with her inspiring and distinctive voice. When she learned about her right to vote from SNCC activists, Hamer attempted to register to vote, but encountered resistance and persecution for her efforts from local whites. Hamer eventually registered to vote and became an activist. She helped organize Mississippi Freedom Summer, an effort to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote, and when the state’s Democratic Party refused to desegregate its delegation to the Democratic Convention, Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She went to the convention, challenging the Democratic Party to enforce integration in the southern branches of the party, and testifying to the brutality she had endured in Mississippi.

Commercial Civil Rights Songs Used in Protest 

Joan Baez cover of “We Shall Over Come” (Live, 1963). For more on the history and use of this song (often described as the Civil Rights anthem) check out this NPR feature “The Inspiring Force of ‘We Shall Overcome.‘”

Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ In the Wind” (Live, 1963)

Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddamn” (Live, 1964)

When you listen to this Aretha Franklin’s cover of “People Get Ready” (a song originally released by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions) think about how it evokes both traditional Negro Spirituals and train imagery from the Great Migration to recruit listeners into the Movement of the 1960s.

The Freedom Singers, a group of African American singers, began as a student quartet, but became the singing branch of SNCC – the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, one of the major Civil Rights groups of the 60s. The Freedom Singers toured the country, helping to popularize the movement’s ideals. Here, one of the Freedom Singers discusses the role of music in the movement.


The Folk Revival 

The folk revival of the 1960s (roughly 1958-65) frequently engaged with the movements of the era. Anti-nuclear, civil rights, antiwar, and environmental concerns were all represented in the song-writing of these years. Major songwriters whose writing evinced concerns with politics and social movements included Pete Seeger, Malvina Reynolds, Bob Dylan, and Phil Ochs. For more, listen to the playlist prepared by Sarah King for your listening pleasure.

Black Power, Muhammad Ali, & Nina Simone Interviews 

Anti-Vietnam Protest Culture

Please check out this Spotify Playlist curated by Sarah King on Vietnam Protest Music.

Phil Ochs, “I Ain’t Marchin Anymore”

Women’s Liberation Protest Culture 

Ann Margaret sings “How Lovely to Be a Woman” in the film adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie representing womanhood in the 1960s before the movement.

During the Women’s Rights Movement, many love songs were used in the context of marches to describe gender relations beyond the context of romantic relationships.

Emma Watson selected Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road as her first book club read. Here they sit down together and talk about its contemporary implications.

Stark Trek & Civil Rights 

Television Programming Radicalizes 

“What Does Assassination Mean?” 

In the wake of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy during the Spring of 1968, Mr. Rogers produced a television special for children addressing political assassination. The extended clip can be found here.

Nina Simone, “Why the King of Love is Dead”

Comedian “Moms Mabley” performed “Abraham, Martin, and John” on Playboy After Dark in 1970.

Thank you to doctoral candidate Sarah King who submitted multimedia excerpts and curated Spotify playlists for this page.


Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President-Elect of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (PBS, 2019).

9 responses to “Week 13: American Popular Culture: The Revolution Will Not be Televised: Movement Culture in the United States

  1. From our readings and our discussions in class, I believe that popular culture and movement culture are highly related. Music is a powerful tool for promoting movements in that it can reach people all over the country relatively quickly, and can convey a wide range of messages. Music, too, can aid in setting the tone for movements: Fannie Lou Hamer’s music and music of the civil disobedient South promoted nonviolence and resistance through self righteousness, while songs like “Mississippi Goddamn” by Nina Simone incited outrage and anger against oppression. Moving into the late sixties and seventies, anti-Vietnam protest songs, which were heavily consumed by young people as part of their pop culture, framed the movement in a very specific way and has been marked as so influential to the cause that you can’t really study those movements without discussing the effects that music had in furthering them. Television and radio, too, are inciters of movements-the images of subservient, perfect housewives in the fifties incited the daughters of World War II female workers to recoil and demand their equality in the years following their airings.

    Simone and Steinem were beginning their activism around the same period, with both later becoming major influences in second-wave feminism (although Simone’s early 60s work technically preceded this wave). Both women were motivated by their experiences growing up and as adults to work for feminist causes, and both used popular culture as a way to get their messages across.

    Steinem used her experiences and her connections from her many years on the road to create content for her feminine magazine “Ms.,” which opened up an avenue for many feminist writers who were previously unable to find a medium for their works to publish radical new ideas about body ownership, access to abortions, and ideas of equality between the genders. She also spoke at colleges, institutions, seminars, campaigns, and other places in order to spread the ideas of the movement to new minds.

    Simone used her music to explore the intersectionality of issues such as feminism, black power, and the lack of prominent women in these movements, and in her songs also explored the complicated relationship between black masculinity and sexuality. On this last point, she often highlighted the infiltration of certain expected cultural norms for “black behavior” by implementing rhymes and pauses in her music, allowing the audience time to guess what her next sentence will be based on their pre-conceived notions, only to prove them wrong with a completely different lyric. Her music became the cathartic release for many frustrated African Americans and was regarded as a call to action amongst her audience. Although her music was very popular and the messages vibrated with many people, her songs became more angry and negative through the years, and she was labeled as too masculine and too angry, causing her popularity to disperse.

  2. After reading My Life on the Road and Ruth Feldstein’s article, it becomes clear that popular culture and movement culture form a symbiotic relationship where politics inspire and are inspired by the popular. Though Nina Simone inhabited an artistic form of popular culture and Steinem focused more on printed popular culture with journalism, both forms existed in conversation with the current political climate and in many ways informed the future of political movements. Steinem points to her work at Ms. Magazine and her forms of organizing as direct responses to her own personal experience as a woman in the 1960’s and the many narratives she encountered along her travels. Telling stories she encounters in her travels – from political campaigns to meeting and talking with young girls – Steinem’s journalism relies heavily on the power of placing individual stories in a national and popular understanding. Feldstein recognizes a similar aspect of making the personal political in Nina Simone’s life, especially on the subject of black womanhood in black social movements. Many of Simone’s songs like “Pirate Jenny” and “Go Limp” revolve around the gender specific restrictions of being a black woman in the Civil Rights Movement, especially black female labor and sexuality (Feldstein 1375). Simone was particularly interested in combatting the politics of respectability in black social movements and challenging the rhetoric of going slow and passive resistance for black women. Ultimately both Steinem and Simone tell stories of gender specific experiences to attempt to disrupt dominant popular culture narratives at the time.

    The narrative of both women’s lives seems to suggest that Simone was much more fueled by anger and frustration that eventually led to her burnout and retreat from American popular culture. I was shocked by the weariness and pain from Simone’s interview in France on the class blog, and how she suggests she would have lived a happier life if she had been less political. Despite Steinem’s reflective and ultimately positive Life on the Road and Simone’s weary interview toward the end of her career, both women combatted sexism in larger social and political movements with their own cultural productions.

  3. After taking this class as a whole, it has become evident that the differences between popular and movement culture are vague and in reality it’s very difficult to discern when a new movement actually starts. What we see is a shifting back and forth, movements constantly popping up, being changed, becoming popular and then less so. But a movement culture can’t really be called so without affecting in some measure a change, and change rarely occurs without popular support. So in order for a movement culture to be successful, it must in some way appeal to a group of people large enough to give the movement power.

    So then, for a movement to become popular it has to have some sort of appeal to the average person. But how could the pain and suffering of a people be portrayed and detailed in a way that any person could become informed and involved? How could such horrendous topics like rape, murder, slavery, and the basic denial of human rights be made general enough that not only would people listen, but they would absorb and maybe even take up their own opposition. Well the answer was through art of course, most evidenced in the musical renaissance of the 60’s in which people voiced their protests towards racism, sexism, and the war. If violence wasn’t the answer, and neither was indifference, people instead began to use a musical medium that could be more enjoyed as both artistic and political. Professor Barnes mentioned that “If you punched someone in the face who was just singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ then that was on you” and that really made me realize the power in music.

    Steinem and Simone were both feminist activists who had very influential impacts on the feminism movements during the 60’s and 70’s. They were both very outspoken activists, speaking around the US in support of women’s rights. Steinem’s work focused more on fighting for gender equality through her journalism and even helped found the feminist magazine “Ms.” in 1969. Simone was a black jazz pianist who used her musical talent to speak about very politically stigmatizing topics, like how in “Go Limp” she highlights the dark side of the popular non-resistance movement.

    Steinem’s works are very hopeful. Her story is more about letting others tell the stories for themselves and letting the conclusions come naturally. She used culture to give women a larger voice, through the magazines and her other works. Simone’s on the other hand is vitriolic and violent. It is raw and speaks of her own misfortunes as well as that of her race. Through a different cultural form, Simone gives voice to the pain of those who don’t have one of their own.

  4. Nine Simone and Gloria Steinem are both champions of gender and race-based human rights. They fought against the typical concept of what constitutes femininity, and instead, defied the norms by holding mass culture to a far higher standard. Where Steinem’s movement took place more literally (by traveling all throughout U.S.), Simone’s movement transcended boundaries through captivating music and widespread discourse in newspapers such as Time and the New York Times. Nina Simone also performed at universities and civil rights marches.

    With her first civil rights song “Mississippi Goddam,” Nina Simone thrust herself into the highly politicized and tumultuous world of 1960s America. Her words “gave [people] the permission to express their rage more boldly and confidently than the generation before and to move the most maligned and marginalized African American political expression from outside to the center of American life” (USC Feminist Conversations Series). Much of her music took notable risks that caught the attention of protestors and other activists. As the article mentions, her songs such as “Mississippi Goddam” and “Go Limp” questioned the effectiveness of non-violent protests during such a difficult time in history.

    Similar to Nina Simone’s experience, Gloria Steinem became enraged with the lack of gender equality in the 1960s and became proactive about this deeply-rooted frustration. She found that many powerful figures in the literary world were “gigantically uninterested in the explosion of feminism across the country,” and as a result, decided to part from these individuals and take action in her own way. The book, “My Life on the Road,” provides key insights on how Steinem activated a movement for greater gender equality. She traveled to many college campuses and community groups in order to convey her message to young audiences whose members were eager to listen. As Dallas mentioned in her post below, this is what led Steinem to gain traction and create the national feminist magazine, Ms. Through researching more about Gloria Steinem, I also learned that much of her beliefs about feminism were “shaped by the intersectional politics of and her friendships with African American activists like Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Florynce Kennedy, and Alice Walker” (Tillet). This suggests the strength of connecting women who were “leaders, grass-roots activists, and cultural producers” (Feldstein). It was quite inspiring to read both “My Life on the Road” and “I Don’t Trust You Anymore” and further understand how such powerful forces were able to create a movement that furthered both race and gender equality.

  5. In My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem personally recounts impactful moments of her nomadic life. For her, home was temporary and instead movement felt like home. Throughout her childhood, movement was an essential part of her life, as her family identity was bound to travel and the car that lead them. This speaks to generational migration to the United States and within, as well as the associations movement has with freedom. Transportation technology particularly aided in the formation in American movement culture, as railroads enabled African Americans to escape a feeling of imprisonment in the South. The introduction of cars offered greater personal independence to those who did not enjoy it previously, such as women. Steinem mentions this point by touching upon her travels, especially as a young and independent woman traveling alone. As a speaker, writer, journalist, and activist, she travelled across the United States and abroad to spread the message of equality

    Steinem was a leading voice in the feminist movement. She organized conferences for equality, the most impactful for her in Houston, aided in the founding of activist groups, and created “Ms.” magazine to talk about issues important to the movement. While she was seen as important figure in inspiring change, she notes throughout her experiences that inspiration was not a one way street. Rather, she felt at one with her audience and saw her work as one to promote conversation among them. On one visit, she finished her lecture when audience started asking questions and interacting with each other, using her words as a springboard for conversation. She notes the importance of her college visits as touching upon the people important in a revolution— the youth.

    In terms of the audience for both Stienem and Simone, young people seem particularly important. Much of the activism across the board was lead by young people, who are most responsive and involved in popular culture. They are involved in consuming it and, in a way, producing it, or at least influencing what becomes “popular.” Like Steinem, Simone travelled domestically as an artist, and Feldstein noted the visibility of young black female protestors. They were the movers, as issues prominent in their lives shaped the issues central to black rights that were later voiced publicly by male leaders.

    As a leading female figure, Nina Simone was unique for being a notable black female singer with songs of overtly political content. Breaking away from the Southern Civil Rights tradition of gentile expression and peaceful resistance, Simone’s music called for more charged and vigorous action that “expressed on a cultural terrain pain and rage.” People responded emotionally to her music as being “political anthems” that voiced their frustrations and lead them forward to fighting towards freedoms While Simone apparently defined herself as someone “against mass culture” her music was included in a canon of songs used by the Civil Rights movement, especially those easy to sing in large numbers and with few words. Her blatantly political song “Go Limp” had unintentional consequences of inspiring nonresistance. Her unapologetic songs demanded and heralded change, a call for action that did not go unnoticed by the public.

  6. This course has taught me how pop culture and culture movement thrive off one another. Culture movement can be achieved through various forms of entertainment such as music, cinema, journalism, and television. These various forms of media reflect the current national issues and demands of the public which can result into social movements. As history teaches us, when people are unable to produce any change through the system, they turn to pop culture to produce their own significant changes.

    As we learned from the text, both Steinem and Simone had their voices heard by the public through their creative outlets. Steinem has been an important women’s rights activist since the 1960s. Through her journalism, she called attention to critical national issues such as abortion, gender inequality, domestic violence, childcare, and the sexualization of women. She was heavily criticized for her feminist views but she did not let that defeat her. Her feminist magazine Ms. as well as her career, opened doors for other women’s rights writers and activists. She also traveled across the country to college campuses, marches, and conferences where she was able to interact with all sorts of people. It is important to state that her journalism captured the public’s frustration and anger during the 60s which of coarse led to different movements and policy changes.

    Like Steinem, Simone also used her artistic career to produce changes in the areas of women’s rights and black power. One of her most famous songs, “Mississippi Goddam” was created in response of the deaths of four African American girls in Alabama. In the song, Simone expresses her anger towards the inequality that she as well as her people have experienced throughout our nation’s history. Some of her other songs addressed gender issues within society. Her political songs produced a change of mind within her fans and the American public. Steinem and Simone are two important figures in our country’s history that have brought upon change through pop culture.

  7. Popular culture and movement culture are very intertwined to a degree that they each mutually benefit when linked to the other; at times, the two seem to be inseparable and indistinguishable from one another. Both movement culture and popular culture can be utilized as platforms to accelerate the rate of social progress because of the far-reaching audiences and followings both have. Movement culture uses popular culture to disperse its message and aspirations to a wide audience. In the same fashion, popular culture piggybacks on movement culture to reach a specific audience and help grow the number of supporters and activists through shared commonalities in tastes of music, art, literature, etc. The interdependent relationship of popular culture and movement culture helped Nina Simone and Gloria Steinem reach out to the public and persevere through adversity to become cornerstones of social activism and progress.

    Nina Simone used her status in popular culture to portray the issues of feminism and black power through her music. Though much of her early work comprised of songs with little underlying movement message because of her rigorous self-demand as a woman with classical training, she later invoked fiery passion in her songs – namely, “Mississippi Goddamn” – due to the injustices levied upon African Americans in the South, as well as addressing concerns of feminism within and without of the Civil Rights Movement. Her platform as a world-renown musician allowed her message to spread through a wide-reaching interracial audience.

    Gloria Steinem used her experiences on the road as a basis for her discussion of feminism to establish Ms. By doing so, she created a creative outlet for unheard women’s voices – both of those domestic and abroad – to make feminism more personal for those who heard these voices. Contrary-yet-similar to Simone, Steinem’s literary work became a defining part of the movement culture, which in turn became a significant aspect of popular culture.

  8. I had always believed that popular culture played a large role within movement culture, and it has become clear after taking this course and witnessing the current political climate, that it is an invaluable part of movement culture. Though popular culture may not be the factor that leads directly to change, whether it be legislation, new programs, etc., it mobilizes and energizes the people more than anything else. With popular culture, an artist, musician, or celebrity has both a large platform for their message, and with the rise of social media, these people can spread their thoughts and message across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and reach millions and millions of people. Furthermore, popular culture provides movement culture with music they can all rally around, art pieces (such as political cartoons), and a shared enthusiasm from those involved in the movement. The celebrity of those who are most influencing popular culture provides an even quicker connection to the public, as information is disseminated extremely quickly in the internet age. Take for instance the song “Formation” by Beyonce. The album it was on was seemingly released out of nowhere (along with a accompanying music video), and by the next day it was a huge talking point in the music world as well as a big story regarding societal issues such as racism, the role of the police, etc. Obviously there are movements that have brought attention to the same things, such as Black Lives Matter, but the celebrity appeal of Beyonce brought those issues to many more people who otherwise would not be interested in the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Nina Simone’s impact on popular and movement culture was similar in a sense to the example above, but did not reach the huge crossover audience that an artist like Beyonce does (it is also worth noting that the 2000s are much more progressive than the 1960s). However, Simone did use her position to champion civil rights for both African-Americans and women through her music. Songs such as “Mississippi Goddamn” and “Strange Fruit” were scathing indictments of American society which became “anthems” of the Civil Rights Movement. Though her music was rooted in “black” culture, she was able to reach a relatively interracial following with her strong yet subtle message.

    Gloria Steinem’s particular approach differed from the two singers I’ve mentioned but her techniques in organizing movements were equally effective. Whereas singers and artists released their work to the masses, Gloria Steinem took the message directly to the people. Though one cannot reach quite as many ears this way, the messages she personally delivered to the common people marching through the streets were presumably much stronger and longer lasting than the effect of just one song. Simone and Steinem represent the convergence of popular culture and movement culture and how they have become intertwined over time. Simone used her position as part of “popular culture” to influence “movement culture”, whereas Steinem’s effectiveness and popularity within the “movement culture” propelled her to status in “popular culture”.

  9. In some ways, movement culture seems most correlated to the “bottom up” side of popular culture. Movements started by “ordinary” people without a lot of political capital or other advantages create their own content, such as protest slogans and songs, or evocative artwork, in order to advance their causes. Some of these cultural productions then are adopted by more people and begin to be produced through more traditional means of production, making them a part of mainstream popular culture. However, sometimes movements themselves adapt or adopt pre-existing content to fit the needs of their movements. For example, in class we discussed how the Carpenters’ song “We’ve only just begun” was later adopted by artists to communicate their feelings about the decline of the Black Power movement, even though it was originally written as a love song for a wedding.

    Both Nina Simone and Gloria Steinem gained skills from their unconventional childhoods that later helped them in their work as activists. For instance, Nina Simone had experienced being a black girl in a white person’s world through her experiences as a classical musician who was trained by white teachers and performed for white audiences. She was already used to, in some ways, feeling isolated from both black and white communities because she kept “crossing the tracks” between the two communities. This assisted her as an adult when she once again, as a musician, had to navigate between the white and black communities. Gloria Steinem was able to harness the love of travel she inherited from her father to crisscross the country raising support for feminism, Native American rights, and other causes. She also applied lessons about on the road organizing she had learned from Gandhi’s followers in India to organize women in the US and around the world.

    Nina Simone faced some challenges that Gloria Steinem was able to avoid, or was privileged to not face. Gloria Steinem was able to flee an ill-advised engagement by studying abroad in India for several years. Nina Simone, however, ended up marrying a man who, though as her manager he advanced her popular music career, often worked against her desire to be an activist, discouraging her from writeing and performing “unconventional” music and exerting his control through violence. Both activists were able to use pop culture mediums to advance their causes- Nina through her music, Gloria through her magazine- but Gloria Steinem worked more in the grassroots sector and was able to exert greater control over her own publications. Gloria had the advantage of being white, which offered some protection against violence and harassment, and also came from a family with slightly more resources, allowing her to get a college degree. She also worked in an industry (literature) that was not as tightly managed as the music industry was at the time. Nina had none of these advantages, and thus was more vulnerable to exploitation by her superiors in the music industry. Nina also had fewer allies within her industry to assist and support her. Eventually, Nina fled to Europe to have greater freedom and control over her life, while Gloria stayed in the United States.

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