Fifty-one years ago, Sam Cooke and his band were denied rooms at a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana thanks to that state’s adherence to racial segregation laws then prevalent throughout the South.
Fifty years ago this week, and just ten moths before he would be shot to death at a motel in Los Angeles, the prolific gospel-soul artist penned the anthem of the civil rights movement, “A Change is Gonna Come”:
Rolling Stone now calls “A Change Is Gonna Come” one of the greatest songs of all time, but in 1964 its political message was a risky maneuver.
Cooke had worked hard to be accepted as a crossover artist after building a sizable following on the gospel circuit. And the first thing to know about the song, Cooke biographer Peter Guralnick says, is that it’s unlike anything the singer had ever recorded.
“His first success came with the song ‘You Send Me.’ I mean, this was his first crossover number under his own name, and it went to No. 1 on the pop charts, which was just unheard of,” Guralnick says. “As he evolved as a pop singer, he brought more and more of his gospel background into his music, as well as his social awareness, which was keen. But really, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ was a real departure for him, in the sense that it was undoubtedly the first time that he addressed social problems in a direct and explicit way.”
Before his death, the singer of “Wonderful World” and scores of other smash hits would see the beginning of the change he and millions of blacks and right-thinking-Americans craved for with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Thanks to his words, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons and non-violent civil disobedience, courageous Southern judges and the movement of the hearts of most Americans to their very Christian messages coupled with American adherence to its all-men-are-created-equal creed; the American world indeed became more wonderful.
Americans should be proud of how they have buried most badges of slavery and racial discrimination against blacks that were 300+ years in the making over the past half century. The descendants of those that beat back Nazis and Imperial Japan only to be directed away from “Whites Only” restrooms, saw the entirety of the American Dream finally opened up to them, exemplified by the popularity of Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, the public service of General Colin Powell and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, culminating with the 2008 election of a son of Africa and Kansas as President of the United States.
Sam Cooke’s song was prophetic. Change in the form of better race relations came and thank God for it. But of course, achieving equality with whites before the law and in the voting booth didn’t deliver the sons and daughters of slaves into a state of Eden-like bliss merely because they could now make all of the same choices as the sons and daughters of slave owners or the much more numerous group of whites descended from non-slave-owners.
More than one change has come and gone since the singer of “Chain Gang” passed from the scene. Yes, de jure racial chains were thrown off, and for a time, Americans writ large held the other government-imposed economic chains at bay thanks to President Ronald Reagan’s vision. But sadly, a benefactor of the change Cooke envisioned, and his Democratic Party embraced other hopes and changes that most Americans now wish they had not embraced.
President Barack Obama promised a war on coal, skyrocketing energy prices and that under Obamacare you could keep insurance policies you liked. Tragically, he only kept the first two promises. Obama Democrats promised unemployment would never top 8% if their “stimulus” bill was passed. Today, 91 million out of 300 million Americans are out of work after five years of Obamanomics.
And more black Americans are in poverty today than at any time since at least the Great Depression.
Sam Cooke’s anthem has been this conservative’s favorite song for decades, and not just because our parents were instrumental in integration efforts in our South Carolina home during the late 1960s and 1970s. No, “A Change is Gonna Come” speaks to the longings of all of God’s children at all times and places. So we continue to sing along with Sam in hopes that more and better change is gonna come that will once again make the American Dream of independence from oppressive government for Americans red and yellow, black and white:
“A Change Is Gonna Come”
I was born by the river in a little tent
And just like that river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it willIt’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cos I don’t know what’s out there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it willI go to the movie
And I go down town
somebody keep telling me don’t hang around
Its been along time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it willThen I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my kneesThere were times when I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gone come, oh yes it will