Meet a hero in Minneapolis on January 17


Hero coming to town. And you can see him, up close and personal.

Hollis Watkins was a leader in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. When I interviewed him for Freedom Song, he described leading songs as part of the movement:

“Number one, music is used to motivate people. Music is used to inspire people. Music is used also to educate through sending messages to people. In many cases, the message that people get is part of what leads to inspiring, but it can also motivate and inspire without getting a definite message.” …

“If it was at a mass meeting, and you had more older people there, you probably would start out by singing some of the songs they were familiar with. Especially if you got a lot of people who may not know the songs initially, you would start out with songs they were familiar with that they sang at church. You would sing a few verses just the way they sang at church. Then you would explain ‘we’re going to change a couple words and make them fit in with our movement.’ And then you would change a few words.

“The church song goes:

‘Who’s that yonder dressed in white?
Must be the children of the Israelite.’

“And then you change it to:

‘Who’s that yonder dressed in white?
Must be the children fighting for their equal rights.’

“Then they would see it and understand it. You start with something they can relate to and then explain the changing of the words.”

Every few years, Hollis Watkins comes to the Twin Cities. Southside Family School is sponsoring his visit this month. The press release explains:

Hollis Watkins has been a long and treasured friend of the Southside Family Charter School community. Watkins joined The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960’s and has been a dedicated champion for civil and human rights throughout his lifetime. He has inspired generations of Southside students and families to continue the fight for social justice. An Evening with Hollis Watkins is an opportunity for the community to learn more about this remarkable man and our continuing struggle for justice.

If you’d like to meet this hero of the civil rights movement, you can come to An Evening with Hollis Watkins at 4500 Clinton Avenue South in Minneapolis on Tuesday, January 17 at 6 p.m. (That’s the location of both Southside Family School and Joan of Arc parish — there’s a parking lot.) There’s a $10 suggested donation, which will help to support the work of the school.