Explore each of the six compositions in Journeys to Justice.

Songs for the African Violet

Words and music by Jasmine Barnes
Commissioned for Carl A. Alexander and the Voice(ed) Project, Chicago, Illinois; April, 2018

Songs for the African Violet is a song cycle that embraces and celebrates the Black Woman through song. 

Is it Fair?

Two Black Churches

Composed by Shawn Okpebholo
“Ballad of Birmingham” text by Dudley Randall
“The Rain” text by Marcus Amaker

Two Black Churches is a song set in two movements composed for baritone Will Liverman and pianist Paul Sánchez. This work is a musical reflection of two significant and tragic events perpetrated at the hands of white supremacists in two black churches, decades apart:the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, which took the lives of four girls, and the 2015 Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, resulting in the deaths of nine parishioners.

The text of the first movement is a poem by Dudley Randall, Ballad of Birmingham, a narrative account of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing from the perspectives of the mother of one victim and her child. Stylistically, this movement includes 1960s black gospel juxtaposed with contemporary art song. At moments, the civil rights anthem, We Shall Overcome, and the hymn, Amazing Grace, are referenced subtly. While there are strophic elements consistent with the poem's structure, the work is also rhapsodic, though serious and weighty.

The text of the second movement is a poem called The Rain by Marcus Amaker, poet laureate of Charleston, South Carolina, written specifically for this composition. This poem poignantly reflects the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Set in the coastal city of Charleston, which often floods, The Rain is a beautifully haunting metaphor on racism and the inability of blacks in America to stay above water—a consequence of the flood of injustice and the weight of oppression. In this composition, the number nine is significant, symbolizing the nine people who perished that day. Musically, this is most evident through meter and a reoccurring nine-chord harmonic progression. At the first church service at Mother Emanuel after the shooting, the hymn, 'Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus, was sung, testifying to a community that chose faith and hope over hate and fear. That hymn is referenced in this movement.

Ballad of Birmingham

Dudley Randall

(On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”

“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”

The Rain

Marcus Amaker

When the reality
of racism returns,
all joy treads water
in oceans of buried

is doing
everything it can
to only swim
in a colorless liquid
of calm sea
and blind faith.

But the Lowcountry
is a terrain
of ancient tears,
suffocating through
floods of segregation.

When (a murderer’s) gunshots
made waves (at Emanuel AME Church),

we closed our eyes,
held our breath
and went under.

And we are still

trying not to
taste the salt

of our surrounding blues
or face the rising tide
of black pain.

“Your Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime

Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Terrence McNally

“Your Daddy’s Son” appears in Act I of the musical Ragtime, which debuted in 1996, and is based on the novel by the same name by E.L. Doctorow.

The Talk: Instructions for Black Children When They Interact with the Police

Words and music by Damien Geter

  1. Pull over. Don’t Run. Keep Calm
  2. Keep your hands where they can see them.
  3. Be polite. Save your rage. (Yes, sir. No, ma’am. Please. Thank you.)
  4. Get home safely.

Night Trip

Composed by Carlos Simon
Libretto by Sandra Seaton

The uncles arrive in Chicago after dark at their sister’s apartment to pick up their niece Conchetta. Conchetta is thrilled to go “home” to see her relatives—her grandmother, her aunts, her “play aunts.” She sings about the rough world of the big city and longs for the small-town life in Tennessee.

The uncles sing about the good old days when they were in the service. Wesley shows off his fully operational A-11 Army watch to Mack. They enjoy using military language.

The uncles remind her of their orders to take care of the box of money, the one under the seat. The men stop for gas in Indiana, ask the attendant if they can use the restroom, only to be told that none is available for them. In anger, they order the attendant to take out the hose then drive off without paying.

As they’re speeding away, we hear sirens. They’re stopped by a policeman and the gas station attendant. An argument ensues between the uncles, the attendant and the police. Conchetta steps out of the car and offers them her food.

Wesley steps forward and directs the police officer to look under the seat for another box filled with dollar bills. With money in hand, there is still more hesitation by officer. The police and attendant drive off with the box of money.

Bittersweet. In the final solo Conchetta is still caught up in the experience of the road. Her uncles try to reassure her that all is well again. She has been changed by the experience.

Songs of Love and Justice

Composed by Dr. Adolphus Hailstork
Text by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Songs of Love and Justice is a song cycle set to words spoken by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

  1. Justice
  2. Difficulties
    From “Loving Your Enemies”, delivered at the Detroit Council of Churches’ Noon Lenten Services, March 7, 1961.
  3. Decisions
    Montgomery, Alabama, 1957.
  4. Love


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