The Limits of Non-Violence

Oh Pritchett, Oh Kelley
Songwriter: Music traditional ("Oh Mary, Oh Martha"), words by Bertha Gober and Janie Culbreath
Performed by: Bertha Gober, Rutha Harris, and Charles Sherrod

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Officials in Albany had studied and tried to defuse the activists' tactics: when they jailed protesters they would tell them, "I don't want no [expletive] singing and no [expletive] praying." But the singing was important to maintaining morale and providing leaders within the group, like the young Bernice Johnson (Reagon).

Jailed protesters in Albany sang out the names of their captors. "Oh Prichett, Oh Kelley," an adaptation of a well-known spiritual, demanded that the police chief, Laurie Prichett, and the mayor, Asa Kelley, "open this cell." Reagon points out that, ordinarily, for a black person to call out a white person in this manner would be to invite hanging. "But this time, with a song, there was nothing they could do to block what we were saying. Not only did you call their names and say what you wanted to say but they could not stop your sound. Singing is different than talking."

The Albany movement led to an invigorated musical culture and touring groups like the SNCC Freedom Singers, who raised money and attention for the movement.

For more on music and the movement, read comments by Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Music courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, folkways.


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