I'm Marching Down Freedom's Road

Words by Langston Hughes; music by Emerson Harper, 1942

Who is the "I" singing this song? Black soldier.

Why were African Americans especially motivated to fight in World War II? Nazi Aryan racial policies.

What event in the 1930s signaled Adolf Hitler's attitude toward Blacks? He used the 1936 Berlin Olympics to promote Aryan racial superiority; ridiculed Jesse Owens.

Does "there's room in this land for every race" mean the US or overseas? Where are "the very people I want to fight"? He sings "Let's make this land safe for one and all"; why might African Americans especially feel unsafe in the US in 1942? Lynching and violence in the South; discrimination everywhere. What was the status of desegregation during the war? War industries desegregated 1941, military not until 1948.

What was the "one objective" of this soldier? Keep hold of freedom for me and you. How might going to war accomplish this objective for Blacks?

"I'm Marching Down Freedom's Road" performed by Josh White on Free and Equal Blues, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways [SF40081], © 1998. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


This song is most often associated with Josh White's performance, which is featured on this recording. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, White was a leading African American blues singer in the 1930s and 40s. He was a hit with white, New York audiences, influential in folk music circles, and appreciated by other notable singers like Pete Seeger. As with other folk singers during the 1950s, Josh White's career came to a standstill when he was "blacklisted" (shunned by record companies and concert promoters) during the McCarthy Era. He remained popular in Europe, though, and returned to the folk revival scene of the 1950s and 60s. At times he was rated more popular than Bob Dylan.

Josh White referred to this song as a "rousing plea for true democracy."

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:


Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes (1902–67), a poet, journalist, playwright, and novelist, was recognized in the 1920s as a leading African American writer. He was introduced to the composer Emerson Harper through his mother, who befriended Harper's wife while living in Lawrence, Kansas. Hughes wrote this text in 1942, while he lived with the Harpers in Harlem in New York City.

Although it was written as a marching song for democratic freedom in the war years, with references to the Nazis, it also encouraged racial equality and the abolishment of the Jim Crow laws.

Other poems and works by Langston Hughes

This song continued to be sung after the war. What meaning did the message "Black and white together: unite and fight" take on in the post-war years? We fought together for freedom overseas, now we'll fight for freedom at home. How did Black experiences during the war—both military and civilian—contribute to the Civil Rights Movement? Outstanding military service earned desegregation of armed forces; work-place desegregation, working together during war gave the races more familiarity with each other; seeing in Nazism what racism can lead to; G.I. Bill leading to more education.



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