By the 1950s, the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee had become a center for the growing Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, the State of Tennessee revoked Highlander’s charter, and music director Guy Carawan enlisted the help of Pete Seeger to organize a concert at Carnegie Hall to help raise funds for the school and associated attorneys’ fees. At the benefit event on February 10, 1961, the iconic anthem “We Shall Overcome” was heard for the first time in Carnegie Hall.
Simone’s 1964 Carnegie Hall performance was recorded live, and “Mississippi Goddam” was released as a single. It was banned in several states in the South, and hate groups purchased the recording in bulk in an attempt to destroy it. A year later, she sang the song in front of 10,000 people at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Freedomways magazine presented the event titled “An International Cultural Evening” on February 23. Actor and playwright Ossie Davis served as master of ceremonies, and prominent actors, musicians, and writers gave performances, including Cynthia Belgrave, James Baldwin, Eleanor McCoy, and Pete Seeger.
Images courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.