big-bill-broonzy

Photo is copyright Terry Cryer. See more of his photos here: http://terrycryer.com

Like millions of other viewers, I was charmed by that old Civil Rights lion Reverend Joseph Lowery and his benediction at the Inauguration. Starting with a reference to a spiritual, he ended with this rhyme:

“We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.”

I completely missed the reference here, but Nordette, a New Orleans blogger and poet who writes at Whose Shoes Are These Anyway, set me straight. Rev. Lowery was riffing on the chorus to an old Big Bill Broonzy song, Black, Brown and White Blues.

Apparently, I’m one of the last to know as Michelle Malkin has already been screaming that it’s racist. Guess she’s a yellow who doesn’t want to be mellow.

Me, I’m not taking offense. Yes, there are many whites who embraced and continue to embrace what is right. Many of us certainly did that when we voted for Barack Obama based on the content of his character, not the color of his skin. I also think of  Schwerner and Goodman, murdered with Chaney, for Civil Rights work. And, in the remembrances of Martin Luther King, I wish someone had given a shout out to old Lyndon Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, even though, as he rightly predicted, “this will lose the South for the Democratic Party for the next hundred years.”

Still, with what Rev. Lowery has been through and seen, and on the day he saw Martin Luther King’s dream come to fruition, I’m going to give him a pass to say whatever he wants. I don’t think he was condemning, so much as saying “we’re making progress, but let’s keep striving for this as an ideal.” And as evidenced by the last eight years, white doesn’t always embrace what is right.

Well, thank God for YouTube. Here is an audio only recording of Broonzy doing the song:

I hope Bill is up in Heaven doing fist-bumps with Martin Luther King and Odetta.

Here is one set of lyrics to Black, Brown and White Blues although the recorded version differs a little.

This little song that i’m singin’ about,
People you know it’s true
If you’re black and gotta work for a living,
This is what they will say to you,
They says, “if you was white, should be all right,
If you was brown, stick around,
But as you’s black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back”
I was in a place one night
They was all having fun
They was all buyin’ beer and wine,
But they would not sell me none
They said, “if you was white, should be all right,
If you was brown, stick around,
But if you black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back”
Me and a man was workin’ side by side
This is what it meant
They was paying him a dollar an hour,
And they was paying me fifty cent
They said, “if you was white, ‘t should be all right,
If you was brown, could stick around,
But as you black, hmm boy, get back, get back, get back”
I went to an employment office,
Got a number ‘n’ i got in line
They called everybody’s number,
But they never did call mine
They said, “if you was white, should be all right,
If you was brown, could stick around,
But as you black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back”
I hope when sweet victory,
With my plough and hoe
Now i want you to tell me brother,
What you gonna do about the old jim crow?
Now if you was white, should be all right,
If you was brown, could stick around,
But if you black, whoa brother, get back, get back, get back

Photo of Big Bill Broonzy by Terry Cryer.

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