Music Throwback Saturday: Black and White

Their robes were black, their heads were white
The schoolroom doors were closed so tight
Were closed up tight

Brown v BoardBack in February, SamuraiFrog wrote about the song Black and White. It was a big hit by the band Three Dog Night.

I disliked that version, though it went to #1 in 1972. Mr. Frog highlighted a version by a UK reggae group called Greyhound; this was their first single in 1971, a UK #6 hit, and a better iteration.

What I did not know about the song was that it was popularized by Pete Seeger in the 1950s. It was about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision banning segregated educational facilities.

It was written that very year by David I. Arkin, father of actor Alan Arkin, and Earl Robinson.

The lyrics in both the Seeger and 3DN version start off the same:

The ink is black
The page is white
Together we learn
To read and write
To read and write.

But the Seeger version has:

Their robes were black, their heads were white
The schoolroom doors were closed so tight
Were closed up tight

Nine judges all, set down their names
To end the years and years of shame
Years of shame

Both versions:

The slate is black
The chalk is white
The words stand out
So clear and bright
So clear and bright.

Seeger version:

And now at last, we plainly see
The alphabet of liberty
Liberty

The 3DN has changed the middle line to “We’ll have a dance of liberty”

Both:

A child is black
A child is white
The whole world looks
Up on the sight
A beautiful sight.

Obviously, the Seeger version was far more explicit in its intent. Or it was considered too dated a reference to use a decade and a half later.

LISTEN to Black and White

Pete Seeger: here or here
Maytones here or here
Three Dog Night: here

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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