Ella’s Song: “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until it Comes”

Ella’s Song is an a cappella piece written by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and performed by the famous heritage group called Sweet Honey in the Rock

The song is an anthem, a meditation on the ultimate lesson of the freedom fight passed down generationally by Ms. Ella herself that is meant to be spoken boldly out loud or under one’s breath as the situation demands to empower both purpose and resolve. 

Nothing in this world can bring a message to the soul as quickly and effectively as music.  It has been used over centuries to pass on the stories of our past and important life lessons alike. 

Pushing “play” and hearing the most powerful and poignant phrases of this song honoring Ms. Ella Baker cannot help but send a frisson of humility straight to the soul of the listener as they hear the ghosts of the civil rights past urging them to not forget what once was, to not abandon the struggle, to fight on because we are not quite there yet. 

Her words set to voice and rhythm are a charge, a call to action wrapped in sonorous tones that harkens back as far as the slave days and forward to a new generation of equality, fairness, justice, and acceptance for everyone no matter what their origin.

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail

And if I can shed some light as they carry us through the gale

At present it is the young especially who are in danger of living a life behind gray walls with barred windows and no choices of their own. 

Many of them will live for long stretches of time all alone in solitary confinement, spending twenty-three hours a day outside of even the conflicted community that incarceration offers.

Ms. Ella teaches us that it is important to empower young folks to be courageous and to become advocates for their own free life.  The key to moving society away from the easy fix of the jail bus toward a different future is to keep young people engaged and proactive in the creation of a world that offers real opportunities.

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot I come to realize

That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survive

It is clear that each of us, every man, woman, and even now, our children, must one day face their own personal fight to maintain a free life in a nation all too anxious, for a variety of reasons, to snatch it away. 

With mega jails and private prisons, mandatory sentences, and newly minted laws that remove the need to prove intentional motivation, it is clear that the net is broadening and we must come together as Ms. Ella would bid us to fight for our collective freedom and rights. That’s the only way we’ll create a permanent redirection of the current way of things. 

Ms. Ella’s message through song is that we must learn to stand and fight together.

Imini emnandi kuwe Ella Fundi

 

Ella Baker portrait by Robert Shetterly
Courtesy of Americans Who Tell the Truth

Lyrics to Ella’s Song

Refrain:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

 

Verses

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons

Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons

 

And that which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people

Passing on to others that which was passed on to me

 

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail

And if I can shed some light as they carry us through the gale

 

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on

Is when the reins are in the hand of the young who dare to run against the storm

 

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me

I need to be just one in the number as we stand against tyranny

 

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot I come to realize

That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survive

 

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard

At time I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word

Have you seen other art inspired by Ms. Baker? Please share in the comments below!