The Impact of Rock and Roll on the Civil Rights Movement

Rock and Roll is a type of rhythmic music that originated in the United States in the early 1950s. The founders of this music were the African Americans who developed Rock and Roll from such styles as boogie-woogie, blues, and gospel. This style is believed to have been heard in many jazz records until it earned its own distinct sound and name. This music is also believed to have contributed much to the social and cultural changes within the United States. It influenced many important aspects (e.g., families’ living styles, youth behavior, and even the Civil Rights Movement), which form the central focus of this paper.

The emergence of Rock and Roll caused mixed reactions among teenagers and adults. Teenagers and young adults were keen on the new style that carried a tone of rebellion against the old traditions; they were embracing the idea of the music’s philosophy (Campbell and Brody 25). On the other hand, parents and the media had some reservations concerning the style, as they were not comfortable with the culture that this music influenced. One of the primary reasons why most of the older conservative adults and the media were opposed to the style was the fact that Rock and Roll was disregarding the long tradition of dismissing and humiliating the African American culture. It stood up to the segregation of the blacks by the whites, which had gone on for a long time. It also spoke against the idea of the whites and the blacks being separate. One of the initial characteristics of those who were opposed to this music was the belief that the music caused juvenile delinquency. This was evident in the movie Blackboard Jungle in 1955 (Miller 56). The movie, despite displaying the opening remark that the production kept in mind the issue of children delinquency, went on to play Bill Haley’s “Rock around the Clock” that became the anthem of rock music.

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Many youths became fans of the movie, which involved the story of a school where the students, both the blacks and the whites, became defiant to their teachers over the issue of adopting the culture of segregation. This was what informed the idea of those who were opposed to the style, claiming that it promoted children’s delinquency. Most parents were also opposed to the style because it had something to do with the sexual nature of its performers (Pielke 45). Their greatest fear was that the lyrics and the moves used in the songs had the capability of ruining the hardly built sexual morals and abstinence within the youths. This brought more division between the approving and the disapproving citizens of the United States. With time, the adults were forced to take action against rock concerts in fear of racial mingling, sex, and delinquency. They came up with segregated clubs. According to Miller (57), there were significant signs that this music would effectively integrate all races. A good example was the show organized by Alan Freed where all the singers were blacks, and yet the audience was composed of a large population of the whites (Rodgers 23). The black artists were now feeling a sense of being appreciated by the white audience, and some of them found it strangely appealing.

At one point, the conservatives’ fear that the rock concerts would allow their children to mingle and mix with the blacks prompted them to take steps to stop such events. Restrictions on the youths’ attendance to the concerts were put in place. Even in the clubs, the white audience was separated from the black audience (Altschuler 47). This sparkled bits of violence by the young population, who felt that their rights and freedoms were being suppressed. The police would respond to the violence with force, which was the catalyst of more violence. Other measures included banning rock concerts by the authorities across all the cities in America. Public officers started getting worried at the rate at which rock music was bringing about challenges against segregation in America (Reynolds and Press 43). Nevertheless, with time, people started experiencing a change in attitude towards the music, and many started to notice its benefits of uniting the nation, especially concerning the issue of integration between whites and blacks. African Americans started earning more respect for their music and messages of integration that they conveyed through the music. This was how Rock and Roll contributed to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.


Works Cited

Altschuler, Glenn C. All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Campbell, Michael, and James Brody. Rock and Roll: An Introduction. Cengage Learning, 2007.

Miller, Jim. Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Pielke, Robert G. You Say You Want a Revolution: Rock Music in American Culture. Cengage Learning, 2001.

Reynolds, Simon, and Joy Press. The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Harvard University Press, 1996.

Rogers, Geoffrey Dylan. Violence, Rebellion, and Rock and Roll: A Comparative Analysis of American Youth Culture 1950s and 1990s. Texas Tech University, 2005.