Yvonne Tweddle interview with Sam Shirah (part one)

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The track opens up with four songs performed by Sam Shirah singing along with a stringed instrument, probably a guitar. The first song is about farming, traveling, places in the Union and the livelihood of migrant workers as the backbone of American agriculture. At 4:25 the second song begins, it glorifies country living, hard work, and staying away from cities and towns that offer the temptation of whiskey and liquor. The third song starts at 13:13 in which Shirah sings about regret, sadness, jealousy, and judgement of other people. Afterwards, a short fourth short song starts at 15:07 in which he reminisces about pleasant memories of his mother. At 16:07, Yvonne Tweddle interviews Sam Shirah. He starts with a story about Bill Moore, a postman and advocate for the Civil Rights Movement. On April 23, 1963 he was shot on his way to deliver a letter to Governor Ross Barnett of Jackson, Mississippi, about desegregation. Shirah, himself a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, appealed to the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, for permission to march in protest. During the march, protesters sang a song that Shirah wrote to the tune of Go Tell Aunt Rhonda the Old Grey Goose is Dead. The song is played at 20:08 and ends at 21:32. Next, Shirah describes a church service he attended led by Dr. King, presumably Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where he asked for volunteers to demonstrate against racial segregation despite the possibility of arrest. Ultimately, more than 50 people volunteered and marched to the Birmingham jail, many of whom police did ultimately arrest. Sam Shirah himself was arrested and consequently lost his job at the radio station at Birmingham Southern University, despite many of the students demonstrating beside him. Shirah sings two additional songs that were also sung during the march that focus on Bill (William) Moore, slavery, and Jim Crow laws.
Sam Shirah (1944-1980) was born outside Birmingham, Alabama. He attended Birmingham-Southern University for one year and then dropped out to become an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. Then to pursue music full time, Shirah moved to New York where he performed in coffee houses, specifically in Greenwich Village. He later moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, and lived with Bob Dylan; then to Atlanta, Georgia, where he continued to be active in the Civil Rights Movement. Towards the end of his life, he continued to engage with both civil rights and music in Atlanta, playing in bars and speaking at the University of Georgia.
Marches, Civil Rights March, Protest and Social Movements
Y'vonne Tweddle English 406 Winter 1967 collected Winter 1968 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Sam was born in Alabama, in 1944. He grew up in the country, " near Birmingham. I-lis father and many of his relatives played the guitar, fiddle, and harmonica; and Sam learned his songs from them and from listening to the radio. I-Ie decided that he wanted to learn to play; and since no one seemed to have time to teach him, he sent off for a book that \vas guaranteed to teach one how to play, in ten easy lessons or your money back. He was nine at the time. I-Ie entered Birmingham Southern college, dropped out after a year or so, and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Then he left the South for New York, where he played in numerous coffee-houses in Gremvich Village. Dissatisfied with this life, he again came South, lived for awhile with Bob Dylan, in New Orleans, and later entered the Civil Rights Movement once again. I-Ie has also worked for causes such as the Women's Union in South Carolina. Sam plays, now, in coffee houses and bars around Atlanta, and also has a standing engagement at the University of Georgia. He lives, with some friends, at Wildwood Community, a farm started by a small group of people from Atlanta. Sam's style retains its original lava)) and authenticity; it has undergone changes with the different influences to which he has been TAPE Ii~. Side 1. 1. It's a mighty hard row" my poor hands has hoed An' my poor feet has traveled down a hot dusty road, Out of your'dust bowl and westward we rolled, An' your desertsweshot, an' your mountains was oold. California, Arizona, We worked all your crops, An' its then up to Oregon to gather your hops, Dig the beets frolllyourground, pick the grapes from your vines, To place on your table your light sparkling wines. ' Well we ,worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes, IIn'weslepton the ground by the light of your moon, lit the edge of the city you will find us and then, We"oome' with the dust and we're gone with the wind. Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground, From:the GrsndCoulee Dam Where the waters go down,_ Everyplace in this union, us migrants has been An we'll stiok in this fight, this fight we will win. It's always We remblethia river and I, Up' arid down your green valleys I' Uwol:'k til r die, An' I'll defend it with my life ,need it be, Green pastures of plenty must always be free. 2. (Refra in) Well, it's real, it's real, one more time. It's real, its real, one more time. I, got an aching in my belly an ashakin' in my head, An' I feel like I'm dyin', Oh Lord I willh I was dead, If I live 'till tomorrow, it'll be a long, long time. But I'll live and I'll fall and I'll rise, on codeine. (Refrain) When I ,was a young, girl my mama said ohild, Well the whiskey and liquor will driVe you Wild, Yes the Whiskey's the Devil and Liquor's a curse, But the fate of her child was a many times worse. (Refrain) (First Verse) Stay away from those cities, stay away from those towns, StaY away from those places where the remedy is found, 2 ,. 1 am Q lonesome hobo without family or friends Where another man's life might begin .. is exaotly where mine ends, I played my hand at robbery, blackmail and de~eit, An' I served time for "verything except begging on. the street. Well now onoe I was rather prosperous, there was .nothin'. I did lack; I had 14 kt. gold in my mouth and silk upon my baok, But! 'did not trust my brothel', an' you carried him to blame, Which ,led me to myfeta of doom, to wandsI' off in.sharne. Kind 1ediesand kind gentlemen,. soon ..1 will b.e gone, But heed these words of werning before I do pass on, Stay free from petty jealousy and live by no man's' code, And keep your judgments for yourself, lest you Windup on this road. 4. Well in my memovy there's ... pioture Of a faoe so dear to me, Of loving arms that used to hold me, When 1 sat on Mother"s knee. TAPE I. Side 2. 1. Bill 14oorewa8 (I didn't. know .it, see, 1 never met him), he was a postman; he was born and raised in Miseiesipp:l., and .he, you know, left Misa1ssippi beoause the....he was a pretty advanced kind of a h....d, and he didnet dig :\.t,you kno\f, theinjustioe and all. He went north to Baltimore, and he became il. postman. .. An' like when the. civil rights movement started, he \fIlS try:l.ne.to figure out ~he was in CORE, .big menber, leader in the Baltimore looal, or whatever You oall it, ohapter), I gueslI:he was. tryin' to'f'igur.e out what :he ahoulddo, you know, being a Southerner an' all. So he just that like sinoe he was a Postman, thst he would deliver II. letter that he wrote. 'So he wrote this letter an' he oame down to Chattanooga on the bus 01' tra,in or something, and he started Walking. frolll Chattanl1oga, pulling ,a little wagon with. his supplies 1 guess in it, stuff like that you know, and he had a lot of l:l.ttle signs all over, said Eat at JQe'S, BIMk and White.U ....And he was deliverin' this letter, you know,he was a postman. wasgoin' to deliverthie letter to Ross Barnett, in Jackson, Mississippi, his hoae state. He started walkin l . He walked all the way fromOhllltte,Mc;>ga, down into alabama, ..through Georgia, the tip of Georgia, T. guess he was walking about lOb miles; not that far, I guess, about ao miles. And then somebody shot him; killed him, with a rifle~ (Tape 1. Side 2, cont'd) He was walking down the highway and somebody ambushed him an' like all he was doin' was doin' his thing, man, deliverin' his letter, he was a postman. An so like, we started, you know. we had II. big debate like where were we gonna start the marohl were we gonna,start where he was killed or would we start at Chattanooga, start allover again. Now I wanted to start right at Atalla. which is right out of Gadsen, Alabama, you know; an' just start right where Bill left off and just oarry it on, you know, as far as I could get, oarry the letterl but everybody else wanted to start at Chattanooga, so that.'s where we started from. We marched, about three days, I guess, about 60 miles, 'til we got to the Alabama line and we were arrested. Thel'ewere ,ten of us, five Negroes and five Whites ,~ there w9.$;five blaok people and five white people, an' me an Bob Zellner was, from Alabama. An the third day, see right before we went into Alabama. I wrote this telegram an' I said, "Dear Governor Wallace." I said," I appeal to you, as my former Sunday...sohool teacher and as a fellow Alabamian to let me walk through my own state like I walked through Tennessee and Georgia,", you know, and so forth something like that. and because he used to bsmy Sunday-school teacher. But anyway, 1'111 were walkin' down the hignway, and we'd make up theese songs as we' was wa1kin' along. (To the tune of "Go tell Aunt Rhods'the Old Grey Goose Is Dead.") Go tell Governor Wallace,/t,0 tell Governor Wallace, Go tell Governor Wallace,that William Moore" is dead. He was killed with a rifle, killed with a rifle, Killed with tI. rifle, two bullets through his head. And the nation is cryin', the nation is a'cryin', The nation is eryin', Because Bill Moore is dead. But his spirit marches onward, his spirit marohes onward, His spirit marches onward, Although his pody's dead. Well, see we ...whenever we ... I was in Birmingham when he was killed, was working for FCLC sort of...gettin' paid by them a little bit, and 1 was \~orking at this radio station, too. So when I went to ... l carried these t\~O girls named Marty Turnipseed and Barbara McBride, took them to a mass meeting; Dr. King was preaching and at the end of his service he was asking for volunteers to come down, to volunteer to go to jail. And I guess there was maybe about eight or ten people came dmvn. Black people. And then it slacked off and nobody was coming. So these two gidS, Barbara McBride and Marty Turnipseed, they got up an' they went down, you know, appealing to people to come, you know. An they got up and went down; and like the whole church flipped out; man - an' like here's two white, Southern, females, born and raised in the state of Alabama, going to a college in Alabama, and they're )'Iilling to go to j ail for our cause, and like ' so what are we? So like the whole church flied out and the all started ettin: un and lin.lI""nn- rlnhfn th ic::lc::. 4 Man, I don't know how many camp- - ahout fifty people came down the isles, and they volunteered to go to jail. So the next morning, Barbara Turnipseed went down to demonstrate, sit inj \~as arrested by the police commissioner, Bull Connor, and questioned and took back out to the colle.~e in a meeting with the officials of the college and everything. And Barbara McBride's name came up and like they put the clamps on her, couldn't leave the campus or nothing. So I took her place, man, that afternoon, and 1 got picked up by Bull Connor myself, see. But like when I went back out to the campus this evening, I was trying to find out what \~as going on. There was a mass meeting that night, and everybody was asking about 'em, so I \~ent out there to get them and they ordered me to leave the campus and not to return. I told them I worked there; I worked on the campus, 'cause the radio station I worked for was on the campus in the conservatory of music building. And they says well it's too bad, you know. "We're making a policy now that you can't come on this campus. So I refused to leave; I said well, look, I said I was a student here; I said, "I'm not a student hene now, but I have many griends here, and, I said, "I feel like that the Bill of Rights guarantees that, ah, the citizens of this country have the right to associate with who they please." And I said,"You can't do that, you can,t have slavery out here." I said the people out here who are my friends have a right to associate with me and I'm on the campus visiting them ... an' I ain't gonna leave. So they went to call the cops, see. So while they were gone to call the cops, I went down to tell the black people who were \~aiting in the car, to leave. And they said, "Wait a minute; you can't do that. We got ta talk to Rev. Shuttles\~orth first, see whether he wants to get in a fight with Birmingham Southern before you do that, you know; otherwise you'll just be up the creek by yourse If. So I said O. K.; so we went back to the mass meetin; and I went to talk to Rev. Shuttlesworth. By that time,see, they had a warrant out for me - for my arrest for trespassing on the campus at Birmingham Southern College. And Rev. Shuttlesworth says, "IIere; here;s $40. You get a bus and get out of town. We don't want to get in a hassle with them yet." I got a bus, and Annie Pearl Avery went with me; black chick, you know, from Birmingham. An we were gonna go to the SNICK conference in Norfork, Va. Because that's where the march was gonna be talked about Bill Moore. We came to Atlanta and got arrested for freedom riding - she was a black chick. But they let us go - let me go - let her go. But Guy Carawan came down to the bus station before they'd let us go. We had to call him 'cause they held us about an hour-and-a-haIf, questioning. We we:ce gonna get a ride in Atlanta, but everybody'd done split for Norfork. So we went on up to Norfork and that's where we planned the march and everything - came back to Atlanta and on to Chattanooga - started it. And I guess Bill Moore was the catapult that threw me into the Civil Rights Movement, more than I'd been before, anyway. Cause I'd decided on my own, you know, that if nobody was gonna march, that I was gonna do it by myself. Just because ... I don't know. Just because like you know, I was protesting the murder of this man. But we went on down the road, singing songs. One of 'em we sang went like this: 5 Well William Moore, he was an American, Fought for his country in World War II, Kept on fight in , for the freedom, Of every Negro- and every white man, too. William Moore, he walked that valley, fie had to walk it by himself, Aint nobody else would walk it \,ith him, He had to walk that lonesome valley by himself. So we must go, and walk this valley, We got to walk it by ourselves, Aint nobody else gonna walk it for us, We got to walk this lonesome valley by ourselves. Well that's the sane we sung. 1 think it was later written up ... 1 think Ernie Marsh wrote some of it: You got to join it by yourself Aint nobody here can join it for you, You gotta come down, join the Union by yourself. This here's an old freedom song ., comes from the days of slavery. They had a curfew that they, ah, had in them days. They had a patrol that \,ent around; the black people called it the "patty-role." Well do please master, don' ketch me, Just a ketch that nigger behin' that tree, He stole money, 1 stole none, Chunk' him in the cally-boose, just for fun. (Refrain) Run, nigger, run, the patty~role'l get yeh, Run nigger, run, its almost day. Well my ole master, he tole me, When he died, he g\,in' set me free, He live so long, his head got bald, 1 give up the notion of him dyin' at all. (Refrain) Well my ole missus, she tole me, When she died she gonna set me free, Well she done died, many year ago, An' l'se still hoein', that same ole row. (Refrain) 6 WeH some folks say a Nigger won'steal But I caught one in my corn field, He run to the east and run to the west, Run his head in a hornet's nest. (Refrain) Some folks says a nigger wont steal, I caught three in my corn field, One had a bushel, one had a peck, One had a roastin' ear down his neck.
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Professor John Burrison founded the Atlanta Folklore Archive Project in 1967 at Georgia State University. He trained undergraduates and graduate students enrolled in his folklore curriculum to conduct oral history interviews. Students interviewed men, women, and children of various demographics in Georgia and across the southeast on crafts, storytelling, music, religion, rural life, and traditions.
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