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Black Liberation 1969: The Soundtrack

Inside and outside of SASS, the Black students of Swarthmore College bonded with each other through music. Whether it was remembering the concerts off-campus that they drove to see, the soul parties they held on Saturday nights, or their own musical undertakings, particularly the Gospel Choir, music was constant in their lives at Swarthmore. SASS’s first Student Council funding was in part for musical performances; they brought Conga drums on their midnight march to President Cross’s office in 1970; and they sang songs during meals in the Sharples Dining Hall. A depiction of Black students at Swarthmore College from 1968 to 1972 would be incomplete without a soundtrack.

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The following twenty-five songs were chosen for their popularity, for their lyrics, and for the fact that Swarthmore alumni remembered them specifically. Encapsulated in these songs is a glimpse of music from the late 1960s and, more importantly, a sense of how Black Swarthmore students related to it. Below you will find genre-influencing, career-shaping singles and albums. Hits like Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and The Supreme’s “You Keep Me Hanging On” are mixed with the timely, poetic, graphic depiction of a Southern lynching in Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit” as well as James Brown’s empowering "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself)". Students sang spirituals such as “Oh, Freedom” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” together; some of the same students danced together to The Impressions’ “I’ve Been Trying”.

These songs, albums, and artists were chosen from those remembered by alumni. We would like to thank Joyce Frisby Baynes ‘68, Marilyn Holifield ‘69, Clinton Etheridge ‘69, and Don Mizell ‘71 for sharing their musical interests and memories while at Swarthmore, and to thank Harold Buchanan ‘69 and Myra Rose ‘72 for remembering that Feliciano was played in the halls of Parrish, at least for a few nights.