Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round

1962

Why do you think musicians in the 1960s adapted this song from a spiritual for their activism?

Why was this performed so much in the 1960s? What was going on at the time? Where and how was the song performed?

What features of the song makes it easy to learn and sing? How do you think this helped the song catch on in the activism of the 1960s and later?

At what marches has this song been sung? When it is sung by marchers, is its message about refusing to be turned around purely metaphorical, or is it also literal?

"Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round" performed by The Freedom Singers on Sing for Freedom - Lest We Forget, Vol. 3, © 1980. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

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

https://genius.com/The-roots-aint-gonna-let-
nobody-turn-me-around-lyrics

One of the many "freedom songs" of the Civil Rights Movement, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round" is based on the spiritual "Don't You Let Nobody Turn You Round." The published version of the original spiritual includes the following chorus:

  Don't you let nobody turn you round,
Turn you round, turn you round;
Don't you let nobody turn you round,
Keep the straight and the narrow way.

The 1962 adaptation changes the perspective of the song. Rather than not letting anyone turn "you" around, it is now about not turning "me" around. This was particularly useful for encouraging perseverance and patience during the protests, clashes with police and counter protesters, and incarceration that characterized the era.

Protest again Laurie Pritchett
Protest against Laurie Pritchett.

According to activists and folksingers Guy and Candie Carawan, Ralph Abernathy introduced the song in 1962 at a meeting at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, during a time of mass arrests and demonstrations. The song's popularity is partially owed to the fact that it lends itself to adaptation. For example, in Albany it was tailored to the local situation by referring to the chief of police, Laurie Pritchett, who worked to suppress the Civil Rights Movement. This Albany version was televised nationally, and a wide audience heard the lyrics "ain't gonna let Chief Pritchett turn me 'round." The song caught on quickly and became widely used in other demonstrations.

Scholar P. Kimberleigh Jordan has noted that African Americans have called upon spirituals for four centuries to help them connect with one another. She writes, "Spirituals materialize the historic and continuing power and possibility of black existence through sound, movement, communal and spiritual formation, in the face of long histories of racialized oppressions that have violated black bodies, minds, and spirits."

"Ain't Gonna Let Nobody" embodied a sense of unity throughout Civil Rights Movement and continues to do so today. The lyrics were recently updated to include the line "ain't gonna let no Ferguson turn me 'round" in response to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer in 2014.

The Coming Of Age In Mississippi by Anne Moody