The song Dancing in the Streets, performed by Martha and the Vandellas
, can be and has been interpreted
as a protest song
; a call to action
for those witnessing the Civil Rights
movement happening all around them.
1963, the year before Dancing in the Streets was released, saw many of the major events in the history of civil rights unfold.
•Medgar Evers, leader of the NAACP, was assassinated outside his home.
•There were race riots in Cambridge, Maryland.
•Alabama governor George Wallace denied two black students' admittance to the University of Alabama. The Federal government later decreed that the students were to be admitted.
•On September 15 four girls were killed when the Sixteeth St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL was bombed. Spike Lee has made a documentary, Four Little Girls, which is centered around this event.
•Birmingham, Alabama hosted a mass demonstration at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested. Fire hoses and police dogs were used as weapons against the demonstrators. While incarcerated, Dr. King wrote his famous quote: "Justice delayed too long is justice denied."
•250,000 people participated in the March On Washington. Dr. King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech there.
The lyrics of Dancing in the Streets call the listener out, to take the streets in protest of institutional racism.
"An invitation across the nation", "a chance for folks to meet", to come together and organize against racism and a racist power structure. Unity among classes, creeds and categories; "...it doesn't matter what you wear, just as long as you are there." It's a global movement; "...everywhere around the world". Hope for the realization of a new, more just order; "...a brand new beat".
The brilliance, of course, is that this call to protest is wrapped up in the idiom of the danceable, Motown pop song. Radio friendly revolution.
Dancing in the Streets is also featured as a favorite song of the anti-fascist vigilante V in Alan Moore's graphic novel "V for Vendetta".