Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) With that are you wrong, boy? With that are you bold? No man's glory.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) With that are you wrong, boy? With that are you bold?
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) No man's glory.
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
There were marches, speeches, boycotts, sit-ins and court battles, but it's hard to see those pictures without hearing the music of the movement - the rhymes and rhythm and words of the artist.
Today, we wind down our series on the legacy of the civil rights movement. And we want to give these artists and the work they made their due.
With us to talk about it are civil rights veterans, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, who helped found the socially conscious singing group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Paul Von Blum, a former volunteer for the Student Nonviolent Co-coordinating Committee. He's now a professor of art history and African-American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Professor PAUL VON BLUM (Art History and African-American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles): Hello.
Dr. YSAYE MARIA BARNWELL (Vocalist, Sweet Honey in the Rock): Good afternoon.
CHIDEYA: So Ysaye, I hope I'm pronouncing your name right. I'm the kind of person…
Dr. BARNWELL: Ysay(ph).
CHIDEYA: Ysay. I'm sorry. You know, usually I'm the one on the short end of that stick. Your group has really touched so many people across America. Tell me about the founding?
Dr. BARNWELL: Well, first of all, I have to say that I'm not one of the founding members. The group was 6 years old when I came in and that was 28 years ago.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. BARNWELL: But the group was founded as a part of the work of Bernice Johnson Reagon with the D.C. Black Repertory Company here in Washington, D.C. She was the vocal coach. And she brought with her, her experience from the black church in southwest Georgia - Albany, Georgia, to be specific. And her involvement in the civil rights movement as a member not only of SNCC, but as a member of the SNCC freedom singers, which was a vocal group, an a cappella vocal group, which travelled around the country informing people - almost like a newspaper - of what was going on during the civil rights movement and raising money for the movement and racing money for the movement as well.
And so that was a valuable body of material that she brought to the actors at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company. And they decided they wanted to sing much more of that music and to take it to the stage. And there were a series of rehearsals and fewer and fewer people and then there were four women and the sound was exactly right with just those four who were Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson, Mie, and Bernice, and they were the founding members of Sweet Honey in the Rock.
CHIDEYA: Let me turn to you, Paul. People think of music and the civil rights movement perhaps, but not necessarily visual art. What role did visual art play?
Prof. VON BLUM: I think that the visual arts played an enormous role. I think the major point that I would like to make is that the music and the visual art and the literature were all thoroughly part of the overall civil rights movement. They were not merely cultural adjuncts but central to the struggle. And so I've spent much of my last 20 years writing about African-American art including those African-American artists for whom the civil rights struggle was profoundly inspirational and in which they played such a huge role.
CHIDEYA: Can you tick off just a few names for us of people who come to mind for you?
Prof. VON BLUM: It's a very long list. Some of the major African-American artists of the late 20th century, people like David Hammonds and Elizabeth Catlett and Faith Ringgold and Jacob Lawrence and Charles White. And many here in Los Angeles, John Riddle and John Outterbridge and Betye Saar and Rose Wattie(ph) and Bernard Hoyes. The list goes on and on. They have a magnificent legacy of militant civil rights visual imagery.
CHIDEYA: Well, Paul and Ysaye, I want you to stay with us because we're going to come back to this topic after the break. We are talking about arts and the civil rights movement with Ysaye Maria Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the rock, and Paul Von Blum. He is now a professor of art history and African-American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.