The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


I have found that in World Studies and World History classes that were not designed thematically it was easy to slip into a disjointed view of world cultures and histories, approaching events in and characteristics of each country or geographic area separately without stressing the connections to one another. In such courses I needed to create more lessons that act as glue, emphasizing common themes and interconnectedness.

In Sociology and Black Studies classes, the worldview is sometimes absent altogether. In such courses, I, like others, tended to look at the material via an ethnocentric standpoint. This was a disservice to my students and the subject matter.

With these experiences in mind, I designed this activity, which uses music from three different areas of the world and three different time periods in the 2Oth century to address the issue of civil rights for black populations.


Students will: 

  1. Gain an understanding of the diversity of black music forms by being exposed to songs by blacks in three different countries during three different time periods: Jamaican roots reggae of the 70s, American freedom music of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, Nigerian pop music style of the 90s.
  2. Identify common themes in music from different time periods and different countries. Recognize the pervasiveness of the common issues presented in the music.
  3. Examine how artists use music to directly communicate messages about the times to their listeners.
  4. Analyze and reanalyze themes by journal writing and follow-up discussion.


Grades 7 - 12; Students is social studies courses such as World Studies/Cultures, World History, Sociology, Black Studies. Language Arts students who have read novels that address similar issues may also benefit from this lesson.

Time Frame

2-4 class periods, depending on the length of class periods, the option to add additional activities, and the course for which the lesson is used. Sociology and Black Studies courses may have the need and the flexibility in their curriculum use more tune.


CD or cassette player, music and lyrics for “So Long”, “ Get Up, Stand Up”, and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” (optional)


This lesson may work best as a closure activity to a unit that has discussed the struggle for civil rights around the world. However, with alterations, it may also be used as an introduction to these issues. May be used after students have read novels that address similar issues.

Suggested novels

Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963* 
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart 
Paton, Alan. CryThe Beloved Country 
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man

*grade 6 reading level; other novels have higher reading levels


Part I 
For each song, distribute the lyrics and play in its entirety (the class may sing “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize"). After each song is introduced, allow for individual written reflection of its message and theme. Then ask for student volunteers to share their initial reflections. Allow these students to lead a brief discussion that will encourage the transfer and development of ideas. After the discussion, ask students to write a second reflection of the song integrating ideas presented by their classmates.

Questions to think about for reflection should be posted in the classroom. Questions may include: 

  • In each song, the artist is speaking directly to the listener, using second person speech. What is s/he telling you as the listener?
  • What does the song tell you about what the artists’ have witnessed or experienced?
  • How do the ways the artists address issues of oppression differ?
  • How do the solutions they present compare with one another?

Students should briefly list common themes presented in the songs. Some of these themes may include: 

  • Assumed passiveness on the part of the people. There is a need to spark action amongst them.
  • The use of religion as a catalyst for action, a tool to suppress the masses, or both.

Students then discuss the common themes they have identified and add to their lists based on ideas presented in the discussion.


Students should receive classwork and/or participation credit for complete, thoughtful journal reflections

Short term assessment (1 - 2 days) - Students create a new song that asks the listener to react to issues presented in an article read in class or independently.

Long term assessment (1-2 weeks) - Students will conduct research about the events that they believe inspired the one of the song’s lyrics. They are to identify events taking place when and where the song was written. A suggestion as to how the research could be evaluated: Students may approach this in groups or individually. Upon completion of research, student groups of 3 -4 must make an oral presentation of their findings, which includes a visual aid. Individuals may have a choice of how they will present their findings. Rubrics that outline criteria such as organization, depth of information, timeliness, and creativity should be provided for each type of research.

Selected Recordings

“Get Up, Stand Up” written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, performed by Bob Marley (Burnin’, Cayman Music, ASCAP, 1973); Embassy Music Corporation/Stuck on Music.

“So Long” written and performed by Majek Fashek. Recorded in 1991. (Putumayo Presents The Best of World Music: Volume I. World Vocal, Rhino, 1993) Majek Fashek Music/Songs of Universal Inc.

“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” (Songs for Freedom: Civil Rights Movement Songs, Smithsonian/Folkways, 1993). [This song may work best if sung by the class after the teacher previews a recorded version.]

Enrichment/Additional Resources

Students may examine recent or historical incidents of human and civil rights violations by reading articles examining political cartoons, reading non-fiction hooks or watching in-depth documentaries. Students may use the foci of such readings or visuals as springboards to writing their own songs that encourage listeners to be aware and active in light of these issues. Such issues may not only revolve around black populations, but may also address homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc.

A few suggested sources:

Carries, Jim. Us and Them: A History of Intolerance in America. Montgomery, AL: Teaching Tolerance, 1995 (video accompaniment)

Kotlowitz, Alex. There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.

Rothenberg, Paula S. Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

These sources only deal with studies taking place in America. Efforts should be made to present issues occurring in the international arena as well.

Contributed by

Mia Henry 
Chicago, IL