Friday, April 27, 2012

Gaines on Stevie Wonder and the Civil Rights Movement

I just came across an interesting article published last year by Kevin Gaines (University of Michigan - Department of American Studies) in the Japanese Journal of American Studies.  His article, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and the “Long Civil Rights Movement”, was published in the 22nd edition in 2011.  Here is the first paragraph of the essay:

Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life is an enduring masterpiece of popular music that reflects what U.S. historians have recently called the “long civil rights movement.”  That concept, as Jacquelyn Hall and others have argued, challenges the master narrative of a “short” civil rights movement beginning with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and ending by the mid-1960s with the passage of federal civil and voting rights legislation.  More important, for Hall the “long civil rights movement” is a corrective against distortions of the movement’s meaning and legacy that have developed over the last generation.  Perhaps the most common of such distortions is the appropriation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a color-blind America by conservative opponents of civil rights.  King’s little-remembered words of 1967 are just as relevant for our time as they were when he wrote them: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing’– oriented society to a ‘person’–oriented society.  When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.  A civilization can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy.”  Americans often forget that Dr. King was once reviled by a majority of his fellow citizens for his unpopular stand in opposition to the war in Vietnam and his advocacy of economic justice.

-- Nick J. Sciullo

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