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  • Writer's pictureThe Rough & Tumble

How Can I Keep From Singing

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me

—and there was no one left to speak for me."

----Martin Niemöller, 1946

It's been a difficult week in America. Not that we've had a shortage of difficult weeks in America lately, but this past weekend the White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville, VA was a public display of hatred, bigotry and the outright racism that exists in America every day. We're outraged, sickened and saddened to see this violence in a city we know and love.

This week on Double Americana, we decided to perform the folk hymn, "How Can I Keep From Singing." It's a song of hope in the future and in the present and of solidarity with those opposed to tyranny. It's a song that affirms the love between all people and the peace that follows truth. And so, in solidarity with the counter-protesters and with all who stand for the rights and dignity of the oppressed and those made to feel unwelcome, we offer up a new verse to this song. Today, we add our voices to the rallying cry of Heather Heyer, the counter-protester murdered by a white-supremacist in Charlottesville, and say "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Originally penned by American Baptist Minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowery in 1868, this song was written to give hope to congregants and to sing of the joy the future brings. One can only imagine that three years after the end of the Civil War, there were plenty of Americans who were willing to cling to whatever hope they could find. Around 1950, Doris Plenn, a North Carolinian activist and folk singer who grew up singing this song, penned the third verse to protest the "witch hunts" of the House Un-American Activities Committee, a group which sought out leftists and often labeled them communists. One of those leftists was Pete Seeger, who took up this song and used it, stripped of its Christian language but not of its hope in the future or in us, as a way to protest a government who would limit the rights of its people. We find ourselves in a similar place today and there is a need to sing out.

Today, our thoughts are with the family of Heather Heyer, and the families of pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates and with the people injured by these acts of domestic terrorism and violence. Today, our thoughts are with those who took to the street to stand in protest of white supremacy, of the KKK and the other hate groups represented at this Unite The Right rally. We stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and with those who are made to feel unwelcome by scare tactics and acts of violence.

Racism and bigotry has no place in America, and we must once again make sure those flags are not flown here. America is for us all, not just the few of a certain race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or income level. It is a place where the voices of minorities and the underrepresented need to be heard and a place where peaceful discourse can occur. It is a place where we acknowledge we all have been created equal. And until that is true on our streets, in our workplaces, in our homes and in our hearts, we hope that we can hear you singing with us.

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