The Link Between Black Pop Culture and Civil Rights

Black Pop Culture and Civil Rights

College football and Soul Train had as much to do with the Civil Rights Movement as political action and the black church.

That’s what authors Sam Freedman and Ericka Blount Danois said at their event “Black Pop Culture and Civil Rights” at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn on October 28th.

Sam Freedman, a New York Times columnist, discussed the 1969 college football game between the historically black university Florida A&M and the predominately white University of Tampa, the first interracial football game in the South.

“With 45,000 people in the stands, there was no taunting or rioting. That football game was the largest act of desegregation in the South,” he said of the historic game.

He also said players such as James Harris, who was the first black quarterback in the NFL and who played in college bowls in the 1960s, opened doors for black quarterbacks such as Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick.

James Harris

“Image of James Harris card courtesy of the Vintage Football Card Gallery.”

He said the pioneering work black coaches did in the 1960s, such as Jake Gaither, did to integrate college football.

“It’s fair to say just like Martin Luther King, Jr. these men were field generals for justice and equality,” he said.

Ericka Blount Danois, journalist and author of “Love, Peace and Soul” discussed Soul Train, the music and dance variety show that aired for 35 years.

Danois said the show was so influential that Dick Clark, host of American Bandstand, tried to buy it.

“Fred Astaire watched Soul Train to learn dance moves,” Danois said.

The show’s success was due to host and creator Don Cornelius.

Don Cornelius was a journalist covering the Civil Rights beat on the radio. However, his first love was music and he wanted to use what he learned at his station to create a TV show.

He brokered a deal with the company Johnson, which made hair products for black consumers. Johnson became national sponsors of the show, which led to its longevity on the air.

Soul Train

Through the Johnson advertisements, Soul Train subtly highlighted political themes and black history and pride into the show.

“Soul Train showed what working-class blacks were doing in their own environment,” she said.


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