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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Who Will Survive America?’

“Will you survive in the heat and fire of actual change? I doubt it.”

From Black poet Amiri Baraka’s 1972 album, “It’s Nation Time,” this song relies on a question-and-answer format to make a statement about who will survive a Black revolution.

It opens with a bass line, and then intensifies, with women amplifying the power of the music. Throughout the song, Baraka expresses his unapologetically black vision of the future in the United States.

“Who will survive America? Very few Negroes, no crackers at all.”

Baraka raps on who is not going to survive. All of these people are going to find their lives extinguished by the revolution because they were complicit in the project of America, because they did not stand up and challenge systemic oppression when the white power structure was imposing its dominance over Black people.

As the song climaxes, Baraka raps, “And no Americans, very few Negroes will get out and no crackers at all, no crackers at all, no crackers at all…But the Black man will survive America.”

Black men, he shouts, and Black women too, will survive. He wishes everyone good luck. Most importantly, he states that Black people’s survival means “the death of America.”

This roaring groove created by Baraka and his band was released on Motown’s Black Forum label, and it was one of only two albums that this label released, which had music on it. (The rest of the albums released were speeches or spoken word.)

The song is featured in Pat Thomas’ “The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975,” a must-have book for anyone who wants to learn about the music, poetry, and politics that were shaping Black consciousness and influencing the Black power struggle of the time.

Baraka’s tune is not to be confused with Gil Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1,” which features a well-known line about, “Who will survive in America?” and was sampled by Kanye West for his album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” However, the Black nationalism, as well as the impassioned delivery of the lyrics, are similar.

As Baraka once described, “We had the chance to get the shit, plan it, go over i,t and then go into the studio, and get down with it. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to go from rhythm and blues, to new music, to Africa at will.”

Baraka and the musicians backing him were influenced by Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, James Brown, and others. Thomas aptly notes in his book that “Who Will Survive America?” has as much “balls-to-the-wall zeal” as Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.”

It is an incredible piece of music, blending poetry, free jazz, and R&B. The bass line from Herbie Lewis is classic.

When the revolution comes, who will survive? Most definitely not the people who reinforced and depended on the most oppressive parts of the machine to get by.

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Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."