Black Define Themselves

Umgawa, Black Power
Songwriter: Anonymous
Performed by: improvisation by Howard University Students

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When SNCC chair Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), raised the cry for "Black Power" on a Mississippi voter registration march, the concept caught fire nationally and attracted student activists at the prestigious Howard University, then known to some as the Black Harvard. In the Fall of 1966, Robin Gregory, an activist with an Afro hairstyle, campaigned to become homecoming queen. When it was announced that she had won, the overflow audience in the Howard auditorium spontaneously began chanting "Umgawa Black Power!" ("Umgawa" was a word created to sound as if it derived from the African language of Swahili.) A fellow student, Paula Giddings said, "...a chain was created. People started to march to the rhythm of Umgawa, Black Power, and there was a line that went all the way around the auditorium, and more and more people joined the line. I did too as it went around the auditorium. And finally out the door and into the streets of Washington, D.C., past the campus, and still chanting...." The chant unified and emboldened the students as they marched to its rhythm, effectively launching the black consciousness movement at Howard.

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

Music courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, folkways.


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