One of my treasured rituals is my daily walks to the school bus with my children singing Woke Up This Morning, a freedom song from the Civil Rights Movement. The morning chaos that often includes yelling and warnings to hurry up or risk missing the bus is immediately forgotten moments after shutting the front door. The song is powerful. It was written by 33-year-old Reverend Robert Wesby of Aurora, Illinois in June 1961 while he spent time in the Hinds County jail, arrested for participating in the freedom rides from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi. It’s a song of resilience, new beginnings, and steadfast faith. You can’t help but feel good while singing it. By the end of the summer of 1961, Woke Up This Morning had become the unofficial anthem of the local voter registration drive.
“Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom
I said I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom
Well I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom
Hallelu, hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, hallelujah”
Walking down the road, holding hands with my kids, I’m trying to teach them to walk tall and proud, despite any challenges they may face. That you can immediately transform your mood through music and powerful words. And that every day is a fresh start.
Lately, I’ve found myself singing this song as I walk to my office, or in between meetings, or whenever I just need a pick-me-up. I always feel better afterward. I feel connected to the struggle and it inspires me to overcome any obstacle in my way. It’s a song that inspires optimism that we can mend our broken world.
*I learned many Freedom Songs while chaperoning a Sojourn to the Past trip with my high school students when I was a teacher at East Palo Alto Academy.