How is history made — songs, dreams, and sermons included?

[ by Charles Cameron — the moral arc of history from Billie Holliday via MLK to Obama — and beyond, who knows? ]

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Our topic here is foresight — prediction, prophecy, prognosis, projection.

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The Legatum Institute today tweeted a Pew Research projection of Muslim and Christian growth 2010-2050.

Pew Christian Muslim to 2050

It is now 2015, so for practical purposes, we’re thinking here about prophecies and predictions that offer what their authors hope will come close to 35-year foresight.

Short form: I don’t get it.

Obama, like him or not, Christ or Antichrist, Peace-Nobelist or Pol, is now US President and has — whatever his strengths, failings, or both — some influence on how the earth turns, which way the moral arc of the universe bends, and or what history will be seen and written once the future is present.

Short form: How does history happen?

I’ll raise that question by posting three videos along one such arc of history — and I’ll avoid the usual genre of “news” and work with song, dream and sermon.

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Describing the impact of Billie Holliday’s song, Strange Fruit, David Margolick wrote in his “biography of a song“:

An “historic document,” the famed songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg called “Strange Fruit.” The late jazz writer Leonard Feather once called “Strange Fruit” “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” To Bobby Short, the song was “very, very pivotal,” a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness. “When you think of the South and Jim Crow, you naturally think of the song, not of `We Shall Overcome,’” said Studs Terkel. Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary record producer, called “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first sang sixteen years before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement.”

As Shelley reported, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

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Preaching borders on prophecy when it addresses dreams, as in Martin Luther King’s great 1963 oration, spoken decades after Abel Meeropol published Strange Fruit as a poem in 1937 and Billie Holliday recorded it in 1939:

It’s surely notable that a singer had a part in that speech, too. As Wikipedia reports, citing DD Hansen‘s The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation:

The focus on “I have a dream” comes through the speech’s delivery. Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King stopped delivering his prepared speech, and started “preaching”, punctuating his points with “I have a dream.”

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The President of the United States is an acknowledged legislator, constrained by checks and balances that preachers and poets do not face, yet his voice too has been raised from rhetoric to song:

Here are the Here are the “three rhetorical aspects” of Obama’s speech that James Fallows singled out for special praise:

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