Assignment 3: We Are AmericansFor this assignment, I would like you to examine a collection of songs with a common theme: the patriotism of African Americans during World War II.I'm gonna lay my head down
On some lonesome railroad line
And let the two nineteen
Pacify my mind
Well it's trouble, oh trouble
Trouble on my worried mind,
When you see me laughin'
I'm laughin' just to keep from cryin'.
--Traditional, “Trouble in Mind"
These songs can be accessed by clicking on the “About the Collection” link on the "Now What a Time" homepage and scrolling down until you see a list of songs links beginning with “War Song.”Part A
Listen to the sixteen World War II songs. Before you try to figure out the lyrics, pay close attention to the music.
Consider the following questions:
- What is the mood of each song? Do the songs share the same mood?
- What is your emotional response to this music?
- Do the songs sung by a group differ from the songs sung by a solo performer? How?
Now listen closely to the lyrics of these songs. They may be difficult to discern, but give it your best shot. Remember, you don’t have to catch every word or phrase; just do the best you can to develop an accurate understanding of each song.
Lyrics to Buster Ezell’s “Roosevelt and Hitler” can be found by clicking on the “The Peachite” link on the homepage and navigating through the table of contents. You will probably need to view the all- text version.
When thinking about the meanings of these songs, you should remember that they were performed by African Americans living in the Jim Crow South at the beginning of World War II. (If you’re not sure what I mean by Jim Crow South, post your question on the discussion board)
In your weblog, discuss why these performers might not be patriotic as well as what they might gain by displaying their patriotism.
Also, consider the following questions.
- To whom are these songs addressed? What is the message of each song? Do they share a common message?
- What is the motivation behind these performances? What are the performers asking their audiences to do? Why?
- How do the performers use the gospel or blues form to convey their messages?
Read and re-read the poem “I, Too” (1925) by Langston Hughes, an African-American poet associated with the Harlem Renaissance who used blues lyrics as models for many of his poems about the inhumane treatment of African Americans, which can be found in course documents.
Keep the following questions in mind as you re-read the poem:
- What is the significance of the word “too” in the first line? What does it connote?
- Who does “they” refer to in the poem? How do “they” treat the speaker of the poem? How does he respond?
- How do you interpret the second-to-last stanza? Why will “they” be ashamed?
- How does this poem portray race relations in America? What kind of vision of the future does it offer?
Lastly, compare Hughes’ poem to the World War II songs. Consider the following questions in your weblog:
- Is Hughes’ poem patriotic? Explain.
- How does the message of Hughes’ poem differ from the message(s) of the songs?
- Do Hughes and the performers share a common vision of race relations in America? A common goal? Common methods for improving race relations?
- Do they share a common definition of patriotism? Does Hughes’ poem seem unpatriotic in comparison to the songs?When Uncle Sam called me, I knowed I'd be called a real McCoy
But I got none of this, they just called me soldier boy
I wonder when
I wonder when
I wonder when will I get to be called a man
Do I have to wait till I get ninety-three?
--Big Bill Broonzy, “I Wonder When I'll Get To Be Called A Man”