Selma to Montgomery: Nine Famous Protest Songs

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Selma to Montgomery: Nine Famous Protest Songs

Liam Rinehart, Staff Reporter

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On this day, 53 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began the historic third march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama.

Over 3,000 civil rights activists set out on foot from Selma down the 54-mile highway to the state capital of Montgomery. Unlike the first two marches, where demonstrators had been beaten and turned away by Alabama police, Dr. King and company were escorted by the Alabama National Guardsmen and FBI agents to ensure safe travel.

In honor of Dr. King and black activists, here are nine influential protest songs, spanning the last several decades. 

911 is a Joke 

Public Enemy’s 1990’s hit, from their album Fear of a Black Planet, is about the incredibly slow response times of paramedics in black neighborhoods. Flavor Flav says the idea for the song came to him when his friend died, after what should have been a 6 minute emergency response time took 26 minutes.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 

Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” was born out of the eruption of student protests in the 70’s across the United States. These protests were met with unnecessary deadly force in multiple instances, such as the Kent State Shootings and the Jackson State killings. The song title alludes to the idea that there will be no one at home to watch the revolution, because everyone will be a part of it.

The Message 

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five tell the truth about the inner city in the rhythmic 80’s hip-hop hit, “The Message.” This is another example of rap artists speaking artfully about topics of social significance, and having their voices heard by topping the charts.

Strange Fruit 

Billie Holiday’s incredibly powerful performance of a poem originally written by Abel Meeropol explores American racism. The poem more specifically protests the widespread lynching of African Americans in the South.

Fight the Power 

“Fight the Power” was released at the start of the 90’s amid extreme racial tension. The economy was struggling, crack was running rampant through many communities, and police continued to harass African Americans everywhere. “Fight the Power” became a unifying song of the streets.


Prince’s magnificent tribute song to Freddie Gray is made even better by the docu-style video accompanying it.


Tracy Chapman’s “Behind the Wall” focuses on the experience of women who are the victims of domestic assault. It also notably mentions the late response time of police to such incidents.


A song written specifically for the “Selma” movie, John Legend’s gospel-infused song strikes a perfect tone for the movie, while also serving as a modern day protest song.

Hell you Talmbout 

Janelle Monáe’s scalding protest song is nearly seven minutes of looped drum track with the only lyrics being the names of African Americans killed by police and vigilantes.


Is there a protest song that you know about that should have been included here? Let us know in the comments below.

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