Riots in Detroit

Burn, Baby, Burn
Songwriter: Jimmy Collier
Performed by: Jimmy Collier and Rev. F. D. Kirkpatrick

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As the movement turned away from its nonviolent routes, its music likewise changed character.

This song's performers, SCLC organizers Jimmy Collier and Reverend Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, believed economic empowerment was as vital to progress as voting rights. "Equality for African-Americans also needed to include economic equality. As long as blacks were on the lowest rung economically things would not change. There was a lot of anger," Collier remembered.

Collier wrote "Burn, Baby, Burn" after the Watts riots of 1965 as a way to understand the mindset of the rioters. "I was searching for ways to express what these fellows in Watts were trying to say by burning the town down." The phrase "Burn, Baby, Burn" became a popular urban slogan, especially during the riots that followed the death of Dr. Martin Luther King.

The Detroit riot provided more evidence of this anger and frustration. The city was home to Motown Records, the African American label that was spawning dozens of major hits at the time. Following the riot, the celebratory "Dancing in the Street," a Motown single from 1964, took on ironic, anarchic overtones. Motown artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder wrote and produced music that spoke directly to the contemporary social climate.

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

Music courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, folkways.


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