10 Patriotic Protest Songs for the 4th of July

Watch videos below of ten great American protest songs, some of which have become such popular anthems that many people forget their origins in patriotic protest — just as some seem to have forgotten the meaning of The Fourth of July. That date marks the signing of the Declaration of Independence, an active protest against tyranny. It was the first patriotic act of a new nation, the United States of America….born in protest.

Bruce Springsteen: Born in the USA

“…Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go…”

Woody Guthrie: This Land Is Your Land

“…In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?…”

Mahalia Jackson: We Shall Overcome

The Freedom Singers: We Shall Not Be Moved, at the 1963 March on Washington

Paul Robeson: Ballad for Americans
“…Out of the cheating, out of the shouting, out of the murders and lynchings, out of the windbags and patriotic spouting, out of the uncertainty and doubting…our marching song will come again…”

Billie Holiday Strange Fruit

“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…”

Pete Seeger: Which Side Are You On

“My daddy was a miner
And I’m a miner’s son
And I’ll stick with the union
‘Til every battle’s won”

Joan Baez: Birmingham Sunday

“On Birmingham Sunday the blood ran like wine
And the choir kept singing of freedom….”

A Tribe Called Quest: We The People

“…All you Black folks, you must go
All you Mexicans, you must go
And all you poor folks, you must go
Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways
So all you bad folks, you must go…”

Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come

More on my Spotify playlist below (e.g. Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam). Also, check out my more traditional 10 Patriotic Songs for the 4th of July, which I put together in 2013, a different era.

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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