Joy Lyman is a Freedom School Scholar at the National Museum of American History. In the course of her work on the 2014 National Youth Summit on the Freedom Summer, she had the opportunity to meet one of the modern day spokespeople for civil rights, hip-hop artist Macklemore, and hear what he had to say about the importance of remembering the Civil Rights Movement.
Macklemore invites teachers, students, and anyone interested in the history and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement to register for the National Youth Summit on Freedom Summer. You can also view this video on YouTube.
Macklemore, along with producer Ryan Lewis, rose to fame on radio favorites "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us", but there is more to these hip-hop stars than poppy, catchy lyrics. Recently, we got the chance to see more of the socially conscious side of Macklemore, heard in songs such as "Same Love" and "Wings", when he came to visit the National Museum of American History.
Macklemore spent his time at the museum touring the Changing America: Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963 exhibition, which is a joint project of this museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture that commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Macklemore then spent some time reflecting on civil rights with Nicholas Nchamukong, my Freedom School colleague, helping us promote the upcoming National Youth Summit on the Freedom Summer.
Macklemore's socially conscious "Same Love" rose out of the Seattle-born artist's empathy for both victims of bullying and his own experiences as a kid growing up in a hetero-normative world. This song has topped music charts across the world, spreading the word for marriage equality. His social justice dialogue is not relegated to the platinum track; songs about racial and gender identities that resonate with many people comprise a decent portion of his catalog.
In his interview with Nicholas, he discussed the importance of music in spreading awareness and inspiring people to make change. During the Freedom Summer of 1964, it was Freedom Songs such as "We Shall Overcome" that inspired and connected people, and even though the music has changed, songs and art of different kinds still have the power to encourage change; Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are a living testament to that fact.
A passion for social justice and equality was apparent in the emcee's demeanor as he thoughtfully walked through Changing America. Macklemore listened intently to the museum's Director of Experience and Program Design, Christopher Wilson, as he described the importance of the objects in the collection and the stories they tell. Following the tour, Macklemore seemed inspired to discuss the history of civil rights and the influence that the African American Civil Rights Movement has on social movements today.
"Young people have shaped America's past, and they can shape its future," Macklemore said after mentioning the role of past leaders in the struggle for justice. One thing that many people, including Macklemore, continue to emphasize is the importance of education. It is important for the young people who are changing the world to understand the past and the issues of the present in order to make informed and powerful decisions about the direction of our future. Our National Youth Summit on Freedom Summer is one of the tools that can be used to educate ourselves and apply lessons from the past to the goals of our present.
The Mississippi Summer Project made strides to educate people of all ages in Mississippi about their history and their rights, and we can take many lessons from that effort. Getting to know the stories of activists such as Larry Rubin, Zoharah Simmons, Marshall Ganz, Hollis Watkins, and Bob Moses can help us to understand the movement as the struggle of individuals to work together against what seemed like unconquerable odds.
Register for the National Youth Summit webcast—hosted live from Jackson, Mississippi—to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Summer. The summit will be on February 5th, 2014.
Joy Lyman is a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan and will co-host the 2014 National Youth Summit.