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  • Ian Dorich

Music in Protest through the Civil Rights Movement

Throughout the 20th century, music has been used to protest and fight for civil rights in the United States. By using art and a medium that is accessible to many groups of people, musicians have made a change in our society through their songs. One such musician is Billie Holiday, who used her revolutionary song, “Strange Fruit” to tell the story of the reality of the oppression of Black people in the United States in the 1900s. Another musician, Charles Mingus, used his jazz song, “Fables of Faubus,”, to protest against the white supremacists and antisemitism. Through their music, not only were these artists able to inform generations of the inequality in America but also share the pain and emotion they felt.

Billie Holiday, a popular singer of the ‘40s and the ‘50s converted the poem “Strange Fruit” into a song that turned the nation upside down. This song tells of the fruit, which takes the form of lynched people in the poem. This song, however, was not well received by all people. According to, after hearing this song, Harry Anslinger, had people frame her by selling her heroin which she was then caught with and sent to prison for a year and a half. Holiday will always be remembered for this fearless protest and for her role in the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century.

Another musician, Charles Mingus, also greatly impactedmade in impact on the music in the Civil RIghts movement with his song, “Fables of Faubus”. Mingus revolutionized jazz music with his multiple layers of musicians improvising and almost chaotic sound to his compositions. In his song, “Fables of Faubus”, he directly calls out the governor of Arkansas at the time, Orval Faubus, who promoted racial segregation and even used the Nnational Gaugaurd to stop Bblack students from going into the newly integrated school. In doing so, Mingus fearlessly protested against racism in our country and utilized arts and popular music of the time to send a message of freedom and equality for all.

By using music and art as a medium to convey their messages, these musicians were able to not only convey what was going on in the United States at the time, but also the pain and emotion they felt. This ultimately allowed people who did not know of the artists’ struggles to understand the injustice at the time and to take action in their own communities. Through their protest in music, they courageously put their own lives and legacies at risk to alter the course of American history and help catalyze the civil rights movement.


“Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit.” Genius,

“Billie Holiday.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

“Charles Mingus – Fables OF FAUBUS.” Genius,

“Mingus Biography.” CHARLES MINGUS,

Pak, Eudie. “The Tragic Story behind Billie Holiday's ‘Strange Fruit.’”, A&E Networks Television, 25 Aug. 2020,

Unsplash. “Beautiful Free Images & Pictures.” Unsplash,


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