My Country, 'tis of Thee
How One Song Reveals the History of Civil RightsBook - 2014
More than any other, one song traces America's history of patriotism and protest.
Everyone knows the words to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." What most don't realize is that this iconic song has been a beacon of change for hundreds of years. Generations of protesters and civil rights pioneers have created new lyrics, beginning in royalist Britain and continuing through conflicts in colonial times, the American Revolution, the suffragist and labor movements, and the struggles for black and Native American civil rights. With spectacular illustrations by Caldecott Honor-winningartist Bryan Collier, My Country, 'Tis of Thee offers a fascinating insight into the American fight for freedom.
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The press for this book says, “More than any other, one song traces America’s history of patriotism and protest.” More than you ever knew. Originally penned in 1740 as “God Save the King”, the tune was sung by supporters of King George II. It soon proved, however, to be an infinitely flexible kind of song. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s followers sang it in Scotland to new verses and it traveled to America during the French and Indian War. There the colonists began to use it in different ways. The preacher George Whitefield rewrote it to celebrate equality amongst all, the revolutionary colonists to fight the power, the loyalists to celebrate their king, and even a woman in 1795 published a protest verse for women using the song. In each instance of the song’s use, author Claire Rudolf Murphy shows the context of that use and then writes out some of the new verses. Before our eyes it’s adapted to the Northern and Southern causes during The Civil War. It aids labor activists fighting for better pay. Women, Native Americans, and African-Americans adopt it, each to their own cause until, ultimately, we end with Barack Obama as president. Backmatter includes copious Source Notes documenting each instance of the song, as well as a Bibliography and Further Resources that are split between “If You Want to Learn More” and “Musical Links”. There is also sheet music for the song and the lyrics of the four stanzas as we know them today.
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