Assignment 3: We Are Americans

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"
For 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.

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:

Part B

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.

Part C

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:

Lastly, compare Hughes’ poem to the World War II songs.  Consider the following questions in your weblog:
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”