February 21st - Ballads of Black America

Ballads of Black America - Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, 1972

Well, of course an album of folk songs about black luminaries is really going to hit my sweet spot - and it's a rare coincidence that this album actually references a lot of the personages we've read about so far this month, in pretty neat ways! Although the music isn't that complicated and the lyrics can be occasionally clunky in the way that any polemical folk music can get, these songs - written to educate children of all races about black history - are great. The Ballad of Harriet Tubman is powerful and honestly a little scary; The Ballad of Sojourner Truth uses Truth's own words, from an 1851 speech at a women's rights convention in Akron (also heard on this album) to great effect. 

Only one of the songs isn't about an individual - the first track, Ballad of the Deacons, is actually about the Deacons For Defense and Justice, a black self-defense organization formed in Louisiana in 1965 to protect local families targeted by the Klan. The Deacons also provided security for the Congress for Racial Equality's safehouses and marches. The song notes, humorously, why the name "Deacons" was chosen: 

The Deacon's activity in Louisiana forced the FBI to investigate Klan activity. I had never heard of the Deacons - I think that they kind of get overshadowed by the later Black Panthers - and so I did a little bit more research, learning that they were founded by Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick - the very same Kirkpatrick that recorded this album. Kirkpatrick has a couple of albums on Folkways, one of which we've already covered and one of which is Square Dance with Soul. As you can imagine, I am extremely excited.

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways