A Call To Arms

On the eve of the American election it seemed pertinent to dig up an interview I did a while back with one of Barack Obama’s most enthusiastic and dedicated supporters: Mavis Staples. I interviewed Staples earlier this year on the eve of her WOMAD performance here and after the release of her brilliant album We’ll Never Turn Back. Staples, who’s worked with Ry Cooder, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Prince – to name a few – tells stories through powerful gospel/soul/R&B songs that clearly describe the strife of African Americans throughout America’s Black Civil Rights movement in the 1950s/’60s through to the struggles they still face today, of threats, intimidation and belittling. Staples continues to be one of the most powerful voices in the world resonating for Black rights.

Aligned strongly with religion as a form of positivity and growing up around Dr Martin Luther King (her Pops and King were close friends), Staples eloquently and enthusiastically shared her story with me, informing me she’ll be doing everything in her power to push Obama into the White House. And Obama clearly has hope in Staples – he used Staples’ song I’ll Take You There in his campaign.

“I feel that my songs are just as relevant today as they were in the ’60s. Dr King brought us a long way, but there’s so much more to be done. He was assassinated before he could live his dream, before he could finish his work. And it seems that today a lot of people have forgotten. I think we did get better, but like I say there was still so much more to be done.

“I read the newspaper, I watch the news, and I still see the hatred and injustice. Katrina tells it all. I actually had flashbacks from the ‘60s, I thought about Dr King, and tears were just streaming down my face, I was so sad, and wondering ‘What would Dr King think of this? What would he do and what would he say?’ Because that was the worst, to see all of those people floating in that black water, and to be crammed in the hot stadium with no water, no food; people were actually dying, sitting up in wheelchairs. And still nothing has been done, and New Orleans is still in a rumble. I know what Dr King would have done, he would have marched down there to New Orleans and it would have been much better by now.

“I see it every day, Sarah, I see on the news where a black family may be moving into a neighbourhood that’s changing, and certain whites don’t wanna see it – the next day after they move in, they wake up in the morning and their garage has been spray painted with words on it, using the ‘N’ word get out, and they hang nooses, hangman’s nooses, and burned crosses… I thought by now it would have been taken care of. This is the 21st century! I’ve seen a lot of good be done, but hopefully it’ll get much better before I go on.

“One thing I tell you Sarah, is that because of Dr King, we have a black man running for president! I think he’s wonderful. And I think he’s way ahead now… and it’s all happening because of Dr Martin Luther King, because of his work. Without Dr King, I don’t think we would have ever seen it. And Sarah, Barack Obama is a member of my church!” she proclaims proudly.

“I pray though, I’m so afraid for him, because I tell you – there is still so much hatred. I want them to guard him, I think they should put him in – you know, the little bubble that they put the pope in, – because I really believe that someone’s gonna try to get him. You read bad things on the internet… So I pray for him.”

“I do feel that I have responsibility to continue to do as much as I can, to keep Dr King’s legacy alive, keep his name alive, and to keep the world knowing that the movement, the struggle, is still alive. The movement lives on, the struggle lives on, because we still have so much injustice, and so much hatred still in the world. As long as I’m here I’m going to be keeping it going, and I’m going to be singing my songs.”


Mavis Staples – 99 And 1/2: MP3
Mavis Staples – Myspace
Barack Obama – Website

Posted by Sarah Gooding under U.S.A
[2] Comments