Broadcast from Havana, Cuba, but intended for audiences in the United States, Radio Free Dixie was the work of the civil rights leader Robert F. Williams. Airing from 1962 until 1966, the program carefully used music, news, and commentary to convey a militant message of armed self-defense and a critique of American imperialism and racism. While most scholars have focused on William’s spoken commentaries, this article aims to reconsider the role of music on Radio Free Dixie. By examining playlists transcribed and identified from archival broadcasts held at the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan, the article explores three themes. 1) The playlists draw attention to the care with which the music for Radio Free Dixie was selected and how phonograph records were acquired while in Cuba. 2) When viewed through the lens of parrēsia, or what Michel Foucault theorizes as the act of “truth-telling,” the playlists facilitate an argument about how music and speech co-constitute Radio Free Dixie’s parrēsiastic subject by isolating particular moments in the broadcasts where the truth-telling occurs at the intersection of music and speech. 3) Consideration of special episodes given wholly over to music allows for an examination of musical genres employed on Radio Free Dixie and their degrees of overt and coded utterance. Finally, the article considers what it might mean to make militancy audible.

Beginning on Monday, October 8, 1962, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a series of articles about an unusual foreign radio broadcast. Under the headline “Cuba Aims Show at U.S. Negros,” the newspaper reported, “Havana has begun to broadcast a midnightly ‘Radio Free Dixie’ program.” The show, “a blend of commentary and jazz,” was “apparently beamed at the Negro population of the southern United States,” in particular, to the “‘gallant freedom fighters’ opposing ‘racists’ in the South.” Its principle announcer was, “to judge from his accent, an American…probably one of the group of United States citizens who have chosen to live in Cuba and actively cooperate with the regime of Premier Fidel Castro.” “The second announcer,” the article noted tersely, “was a woman.”1

The next day, a follow-up article appeared. “The biggest official mystery in the United States government last night was: What is Radio Free Dixie? Nobody seemed to know.…” Inquiries to the federal government turned up nothing. “The State Department and the United States Information Agency said they had never heard of Radio Free Dixie. Likewise pleading ignorance was a great ‘unmentionable’ government agency on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. All the official agencies promised reporters that the matter would be looked into post haste.”

By Wednesday, the mystery had been solved. The Plain Dealer reported that the “Anti-U.S.” program aired every Friday night at 11. Beaming at 690 kilocycles from Radio Progreso in Havana—“the powerful 50-kilowatt station that broadcasts Fidel Castro’s line all over Latin America”—it could be received clearly in Florida and other parts of the South. “The script writer and chief announcer is Robert F. Williams, an American Negro from Monroe, N. C., who was involved in racial incidents in the South last year.” The woman, nicknamed “Havana Hannah” by the Plain Dealer—in actuality, Mabel Williams—remined unidentified.

Williams, who had sought asylum in Cuba to evade an FBI manhunt, had no interest in preserving any mystery.2 With all the press being generated about Radio Free Dixie, the next broadcast asserted his identity in the frankest terms. The show began with music. Over the sound of jangling guitar and banjo, Pete Seeger’s voice intoned “The Ballad of Old Monroe,” a song that narrated the harrowing tale of Williams’s journey from president of his local NAACP branch to exile from the United States. Seeger, with Malvina Reynolds, wrote the song to bring awareness to Williams’s plight and raise money for his legal defense.3 “Robert went to Canada and then to Mexico,” sang Seeger, “and now he stays in Cuba where the FBI can’t go.” Over the next hour, listeners to Radio Free Dixie would have heard quite a lot of music, interspersed with program IDs, editorials, and headlines from around the globe. The centerpiece of the program was Williams’s commentary. According to the Associated Press:

The 37-year old Monroe, N.C., Negro…told Southern “black people” Friday night that they can expect no protection from the law and must meet violence with violence. “The only fate awaiting black people in the United States of America is a fate of terror, enslavement and extermination,” he said in an address preceded by a roll of drums and a flourish of trumpets.…The self-exiled Williams shouted that it is “time for the Afro-American to wake up. It is time for the Afro-American to realize that the degenerate politicians of the United States of America are playing him for a fool.…We are not going to be free until we join the rising tide of humanity in South America, Asia and Africa in the final assault against the racist imperialist and fascist forces of the United States of America.”4

These are powerful words, frankly spoken—words that would be repeated and varied by proponents of Black Power and of Black self-determination across the latter half of the 1960s. The power of this broadcast rests not only in its sharp indictment of racism and imperialism in the United States but also on the effective incorporation of music into its critical utterance. In this paper, I consider Radio Free Dixie as an act of parrēsia, or “truth-telling,” where the subject who speaks the truth, the parrēsiastic subject, is co-constituted by both music and speech. Here I follow the work of Michel Foucault who, toward the end of his life, began to develop a genealogy of “the critical attitude” by considering the vicissitudes of the Greek term parrēsia.5 Parrēsia, in Foucault’s analysis, denotes an act of speaking frankly and freely, of telling the truth, especially in situations where there is risk involved in doing so. Foucault’s interest in truth-telling was not concerned with determining whether a proposition is true or false, but rather on analyzing the act of telling the truth, on what it means to be compelled to speak the truth in a situation of risk, on the repercussions that the truth-teller might undergo, and on the relationship of truth-teller to their audience. Foucault’s analysis of truth-telling and his enumeration of its various characteristics offer a useful framework for articulating how music and speech operate together to produce the parrēsiastic subject of Radio Free Dixie, its form of address, and its mode of reception.

To make this argument, I will begin with a sketch of Williams’s life in the United States, the circumstances of his exile, and his relationship with Cuba. Then I will turn to the creation of Radio Free Dixie, with consideration of its reception by historians and scholars, and describe in some detail how Radio Free Dixie exhibits characteristics of parrēsia. Finally, by paying close attention to the playlists of a handful of broadcasts, I will gather evidence to demonstrate how music and speech co-constitute the parrēsiastic subject of Radio Free Dixie as well as encourage a particular mode of its reception, what I call “militant listening.”

“…You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the free voice of the South, exiled from the racist USA…”

Robert F. Williams was born and raised in Monroe, North Carolina, a small railroad town near the southern border. After serving in the Marines, he and his wife, Mabel, along with Dr. Albert E. Perry, helped to reorganize the town’s NAACP branch, building its membership by recruiting from the working class: laborers, farmers, domestic workers, and the unemployed. After initiating various successful desegregation campaigns—like the integration of the town’s library in 1957—the Ku Klux Klan began holding mass rallies in Monroe. They circulated petitions targeting Williams, harassed townsfolk, and drove through the city with horns honking and pistols firing. After the Klan stopped a Black woman and made her dance at gunpoint, the Black community appealed to the city government to ban the motorcades but were refused. “Since the city officials wouldn’t stop the Klan,” writes Williams, “we decided to stop the Klan ourselves.”6

The Black community began arming themselves for self-defense. The Klan responded by sending a motorcade to attack Dr. Perry’s home, but they were met with resistance. “We shot it out with the Klan and repelled their attack and the Klan didn’t have any more stomach for this type of fight. They stopped raiding our community.”7 The success of the counterattack cemented Williams’s conviction that “self-defense prevents bloodshed” and that “when an oppressed people show a willingness to defend themselves, the enemy, who is a moral weakling and coward, is more willing to grant concessions and work for a respectable compromise.”8 Consequently the Monroe chapter “got the reputation of being the most militant branch of the NAACP.”9

While armed self-defense could help grant concessions and compromises, Williams also discovered the power of the international press to pressure the federal government into action. In Monroe’s notorious “kissing case,” two African American boys, David Simpson and Hanover Thompson, aged seven and nine, were arrested in October 1958 and charged with attempted rape of a seven-year-old white girl named Sissy Sutton. The children were friends, and during a game of “cowboys and Indians,” Sutton sat on Hanover’s lap and kissed the boy on the cheek. When Sissy told her mother about her day, Mrs. Sutton called the police and the boys were promptly arrested and removed from their homes. Public outrage grew over the charges. A London newspaper reported on the case in December 1958, triggering demonstrations across Europe.10 The international scandal sufficiently embarrassed the Eisenhower administration to apply pressure on the governor of North Carolina to release the boys.

Experiences like these formed the bedrock of Williams’s philosophy of self-defense. In his own words:

I wish to make it clear that I do not advocate violence for its own sake, or for the sake of reprisals against whites. Nor am I against the passive resistance advocated by the Reverend Martin Luther King and others. My only difference with Dr. King is that I believe in flexibility in the freedom struggle.…Massive civil disobedience is a powerful weapon under civilized conditions, where the law safeguards the right of peaceful demonstration.…But where there is a breakdown of the law, the individual citizen has a right to protect his person, his family, his home and his property. To me this is so simple and proper that it is self-evident.…Furthermore, because of the international situation, the Federal Government does not want racial incidents which draw the attention of the world to the situation in the South. Negro self-defense draws such attention, and the Federal Government will be more willing to enforce the law and order if the local authorities don’t.11

Williams’s views were based on a strong belief in the constitutional and legal rights of African Americans already guaranteed, but unenforced. His political ideology reflected a commitment to the anti-tyrannical principles of the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence, and the rights and freedoms established in the Constitution—the Second Amendment alongside the Fourteenth and Fifteenth. In relation to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Williams represented for many within the freedom struggle a secular, “third trend” that linked integrationist goals with armed self-defense and self-determination.12 Within the civil rights movement—and despite popular misconceptions—local traditions of self-defense often coexisted and cooperated with the newer strategy of nonviolence. Nonviolence as a tactic was demonstrably effective and yet, as Charles E. Cobb notes, nonviolent protests and direct actions were “protected in many ways by gunfire and the threat of gunfire.”13 At the perimeter of nonviolent protest, armed self-defense was often present. King had guns in his home, as did NAACP leader Medgar Evers, who secretly carried a weapon when traveling.14 What made Williams distinct from other civil rights leaders was not his belief in or his use of strategic armed self-defense, but his overt advocacy of it.

In August of 1961, the Freedom Riders came to Monroe. While Williams would not take an oath of nonviolence, he encouraged the townspeople to work with them.15 After a few days of picketing, the scene turned ugly. An armed white mob, organized by the Klan and aided by police, indiscriminately attacked not only the protesters but Monroe’s Black citizens as well. The African American community was seething. In a night of chaos, a white couple drove into Monroe’s Black neighborhood. The act was likely intended as a provocation, but the couple soon found themselves overwhelmed, pulled from their car, and surrounded. Williams, concerned that any harm to the couple would trigger an all-out slaughter of the Black community, took them into his home to give them refuge. A few hours later the couple left on their own accord. In the wake of that event, Williams and other activists staying at his house that evening were framed, accused by the FBI of kidnapping the couple and holding them against their will.16 Robert and Mabel Williams fled the FBI’s manhunt and went underground.

First traveling to Canada, the Williamses were granted asylum in Cuba, then in China, before returning to the United States in 1969. For most of the 1960s, they participated in the fight for Black liberation in America from abroad. Sidelined but not silenced, Williams remained a central figure in the development of the Freedom Movement. The strategic shift from nonviolent demonstration to Black Power politics developed in direct dialogue with the words and deeds of Williams. His 1962 book, Negroes with Guns, was an inspiration for a generation of Black Power militants, and his forced exile from the United States became a flash point in the radicalization of young activists. His newsletter, The Crusader-in-Exile, was widely read, cited, and reproduced by those involved with revolutionary struggle in the United States, as well as closely monitored by American counterintelligence. But perhaps his most surprising achievement from abroad was the creation of Radio Free Dixie, an hourlong, border-blasting radio program. Beamed from Havana, Cuba, into the Deep South, Radio Free Dixie was conceived as a “counter Voice of America,” intended to expose systemic racism in America and the hypocrisy of its policies, both domestic and foreign.17

“…from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas…”

Williams’s ties to Cuba were established well before he went underground. He was one of the founding members of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), formed to counter anti-Cuban propaganda from the federal government and national news networks.18 Williams traveled to Cuba in June of 1960, where he first met Fidel Castro and participated in the cultural and political life of the island. He appeared on Cuban television alongside Castro; met with intellectuals, writers, and officials; and his activism was covered in the popular Cuban magazine, Bohemia. The experience of visiting Cuba energized him, writing on a postcard: “Really enjoying the only freedom I have ever known.”19 According to Julian Mayfield, the feeling of mutual respect between Williams and Castro was genuine, even as it had “mutual advantages: the Cuban leader was furnished with a gold mine of propaganda material to use in his clash with the Eisenhower administration, and Williams had a platform from which he could speak and be heard around the world.”20

Williams returned again in July with a delegation of African American thinkers, writers, and activists. The group included Harold Cruse, Sarah Elizabeth Wright, Ed Clark, John Henrik Clarke, Julian Mayfield, Ana Livia Cordero, and the young poet Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones).21 Williams’s affirmations of Cuba, in speeches for FPCC and in the pages of his weekly newsletter, The Crusader—along with his direct statements about meeting “violence with violence”—made him a prime target for government surveillance and counterintelligence. When the Freedom Riders came to Monroe and the racial tensions erupted, the incident at the Williamses’ house gave the FBI the pretext they needed for a frame-up.

Williams’s popularity with the Cuban people and relationship with Fidel Castro helped lay the groundwork for Radio Free Dixie. Shortly after arriving, Williams began inquiring within the Cuban bureaucracy about ways to continue publicizing the African American struggle. Back in Monroe, he recalled listening to the radio late at night, hearing Spanish-language broadcasts originating in Cuba. After visiting Cuba in 1960, Williams had suggested to Bob Taber of the FPCC that the Cubans should use their powerful long-wave (AM) stations to broadcast in English, since they’d be able to reach an audience of millions.22 Now in Cuba as an exile, Williams proposed the idea to his Cuban caretaker. Castro approved it and told those in the Ministry of Communications to make long- and short-wave transmitters available for Williams’s use.23

The program was to feature African American music—jazz, blues, soul music—of the kind not often heard on American radio, interspersed with political commentary and news about the racial struggle in the United States and abroad. Although Castro supported the show, the premise did not sit well with those in charge of Cuban radio. In the interval between Williams’s first visit to Cuba and his asylum, the influence of the Communist Party (CP) had grown steadily as Cuba aligned geopolitically with the Soviet Union. The presence of CP bureaucrats within Cuban radio meant that Williams would face unexpected obstacles. Although he had pitched Radio Free Dixie to air on the 50,000-watt transmitter of Radio Progreso, he was initially given a spot on the newly formed English-language station, CMCA, which had a power of only 10,000 watts.24 Williams’s choice of music also ran afoul of official Communist Party aesthetics at CMCA, which considered jazz to be “decadent imperialist noise.”25 However, with the backing of Castro, Williams was able to get his way.

By the end of 1961, Radio Free Dixie was on the air. Even at 10,000 watts, the show reached listeners in the United States. But now another obstacle emerged. Williams’s advocacy of armed self-defense for African Americans contradicted Communist Party views. The CP understood revolutionary struggle in the United States to be a workers’ struggle, not defined along racial lines. Williams was criticized within the CMCA for not advocating Socialism, and for being a “naive individualist.”26 While the CMCA had been established to direct English-language propaganda to the States, Williams found their blunt and doctrinaire appeals to be inept and ineffective at changing the minds of its intended listeners. After a few months at CMCA, Williams threatened to take his show off the air unless it was moved to Radio Progreso, as originally approved.

Castro intervened again. By early 1962, Radio Free Dixie was moved to the 50,000 watt long-wave transmitter of Radio Progreso, but administrators within Cuban radio denied him access to Radio Havana’s short-wave transmitter. The powerful AM signal could be heard in the Midwest and, with good propagation, as far north as Saskatchewan. The U.S. government was listening, too. The CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service monitored Radio Free Dixie from a listening station in Key West, while congressmen in Washington, such as Senator Thomas J. Dodd of Connecticut, railed against it. Williams began to receive reports about the show being jammed.27

Throughout Radio Free Dixie’s run, an hourlong episode was recorded each week and was typically rebroadcast twice. It aired on Fridays from 11 p.m. to midnight and re-aired on Sundays and Tuesdays from midnight to 1 a.m. Each episode followed a similar format. After an opening introduction, music was presented in blocks and interspersed with program IDs. After the first block, listeners would hear Mabel Williams’s alto voice reading an editorial from a handful of Black newspapers about the freedom struggle in the States. Then came a second block of music. With Paul Robeson’s recording of “John Brown’s Body” thrumming in the background, Jo Salas, in her melodious, Cuban-accented English, would introduce Robert F. Williams for an extended commentary. Williams’s blistering commentaries—delivered in a clear, slow-paced voice, with a touch of Piedmont drawl—rose slowly and steadily to a closing motto: “Freedom, freedom, freedom now…or death!” After the third block, Carlos Moore, accompanied by the sound of a teletype machine, would read headlines and highlights from the world news, linking the Freedom Movement in America to international decolonial struggles. After more music Salas closed the show, with variations on the theme: “You have been listening to Radio Free Dixie, coming to you from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas, land where integration is an accomplished fact.”

In tandem with Radio Free Dixie’s move to Radio Progreso, Williams began printing and distributing The Crusader-in-Exile, a monthly newsletter, which often carried transcripts of his radio commentaries. Those interested in supporting Williams’s cause, or outraged by the Monroe frame-up, were encouraged to support Radio Free Dixie by sending money, newspaper articles, and phonograph records. The newsletter advertised Radio Free Dixie’s broadcast times and AM frequency and gave good advice for getting the best reception: “transistor radios, automobile radios and regular home radios with outside aerials.”

“…stay with us, for music, news, and commentary…”

When Timothy B. Tyson published Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power in 1999, it brought renewed attention to Williams’s activism and influence on the Black Power movement. Tyson’s gripping account of Williams’s maturation follows the basic contours of Williams’s own Negroes with Guns, culminating in the harrowing tale of the Monroe frame-up and flight to Cuba. Despite the title of the book, Tyson spends only a handful of pages on the radio show itself.28 Tyson’s book supplements an earlier biography from 1972, Robert Carl Cohen’s Black Crusader, based on a series of taped interviews with Williams, which covers the period of exile in great detail. While Black Crusader is invaluable for limning the resistance and subterfuge that Williams faced while producing Radio Free Dixie in Cuba, it too spends little time analyzing the broadcasts as such. In scholarship on Williams, Radio Free Dixie tends to be less an object of study than a curiosity, more glossed than heard.

Recent work by scholars involved with radio studies and sound studies has been a welcome improvement. Cristina Mislan’s dissertation and articles, as well as Tom McEnaney’s Acoustic Properties, both rely on broadcasts and their transcripts as primary material in their respective analyses of Williams’s work.29 Naturally, Mislan and McEnaney emphasize Radio Free Dixie’s commentaries and editorials, since the aim of the show was to expose American racism and to disseminate Williams’s philosophy of armed self-defense. But a nagging question remains, one that will be my focus in the remaining pages: what about the music? Given that the majority of the show was music—around 40 minutes of each hour—surprisingly little attention has been paid to its careful selection and sequencing, and to the way that music and commentary mutually constitute the program’s argumentative force.

Consideration of the music on Radio Free Dixie has suffered, I believe, for two reasons. First, in interviews and transcripts from the post-exile period, the Williamses describe the role of music on Radio Free Dixie as a means of drawing listeners to the show and getting them into the proper frame of mind to absorb the show’s political message. According to Mabel Williams, Radio Free Dixie was conceived, from the beginning, as a “musical program,” where the music would “attract the attention of the people.” The main vehicles would be “jazz [and] protest music that came out of our struggle, so we could get the people’s attention and then we would be able to give them the message of what was happening to our people in the United States.”30

Second, historians have not characterized the music played on Radio Free Dixie with much precision. The music tends to be described quite generally, which leads to misconceptions. Cohen writes, in problematic terms, that Williams “sought out provocative music with the strong beats and melodies American Blacks could identify with…deep gut sounds, featuring drum and bass.”31 Tyson describes the music as “both innovative and rooted in African American cultural traditions” and substantiates his claim by naming specific artists and songs played on the show: “Leadbelly wailed ‘The Bourgeois Blues,’ and Joe Turner moaned of ‘Careless Love.’ Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach laid out their ‘Freedom Now Suite,’ whose evocations of African memory and African American struggle reflected an emerging movement among jazz musicians seeking to test limits both artistic and political.” Tyson is correct to evoke Radio Free Dixie’s sonic combination of various Black musical genres; however, he tends to place special emphasis on the jazz avant-garde of the early 1960s, arguing that “Williams’s innovative use of jazz was the show’s musical cutting edge,” and he cites Williams’s claim that “I did some experiments with some of Max Roach’s stuff and Ornette Coleman, [who] was producing this new type of way-out jazz.”32 Discussing a broadcast of Radio Free Dixie on “the soul side of rock ’n’ roll,” Tyson singles out a moment when Mabel Williams, “with what aficionados called ‘freedom jazz’ dancing behind her voice,” praised these musicians for “becoming the epic poets of the Afro-American revolt.”33

The implication is that there exists a special connection between “free jazz” and the Freedom Movement, as if the jazz avant-garde was also the proper sound of the Black revolutionary avant-garde. Ingrid Monson, in her work on jazz and the civil rights movement, directly challenges the tendency “to equate political militance with free jazz.”34 The relationship of jazz to militancy was multifaceted. In some cases, political militancy and musical experimentation went together; musicians such as Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, and Charles Mingus composed and recorded music that was intended to be both musically avant-garde and overtly aligned with the militant side of the Freedom Movement. In the case of John Coltrane, the equation was never directly articulated and remained ambiguous, although many critics—Amiri Baraka and Frank Kofsky, in particular—would argue strenuously for Coltrane as a musical icon of Black nationalism. In still other cases, musicians who never explicitly thematized the Freedom Movement in their music—Thelonious Monk, for example—would offer their services at benefits and concerts to raise money for organizations like CORE or SNCC.35

But here is the specific problem: The moment that Tyson describes, when “freedom jazz” is dancing behind Mabel Williams’s voice, is not a moment of “freedom jazz” at all. Rather, the music sounding at that moment is by King Curtis, playing a rhythm-and-blues inflected cover of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” And what would “freedom jazz” have to do with a show about the “soul side of rock ’n’ roll” in the first place? Something else is at work. I believe that only close attention to the playlists of Radio Free Dixie—with an emphasis on the selection and sequencing of music, and the relationship of music to speech—can provide an understanding of how the Williamses incorporated music into their act of truth-telling, thereby creating Radio Free Dixie’s parrēsiastic subject and soliciting a mode of listening attuned to their message, what I call “militant listening.”

What is an act of truth-telling? Foucault enumerates five characteristics of parrēsia.36 First, the speaker speaks frankly, eschewing florid rhetoric, in order to say exactly what they mean, clearly and directly. Second, the speaker believes that what they say is true, and their way of saying it makes it clear to all that they are sincere. The credibility of what they say is not demonstrated through a proof but established by their moral standing, by being someone who has demonstrated in the past qualities of courage, thoughtfulness, deliberation, trustworthiness, and so forth. Third, the act of truth-telling occurs only when there is a risk to the speaker for doing so. The truth-teller is thus not the one in power, but one who undergoes a risk in telling those in power the truth. The speaker speaks from “below.” In its most extreme form, truth-telling can risk life or death, but the risks might be less mortal but no less severe: censure, exile, punishment, or retaliation. Fourth, the act of truth-telling is critical. The speaker critiques the actions, beliefs, or behavior of the interlocutor and suggests that they must change. Finally, the truth-teller is motivated to tell the truth by duty, not by compulsion, coercion, or any kind of external force.

Williams’s commentaries on Radio Free Dixie display these characteristics. His commentaries are clear and direct. Although he was an inspiring speaker, Williams did not possess the rhetorical and oratorical gifts of Martin Luther King or Malcom X. Frankness comes across through his direct calls to action, to meet violence with violence, and to expose racism where it is rooted. The commentaries refer to the trials he underwent in Monroe, underscoring his position as a fugitive from the racist United States. In so doing, he establishes moral standing, as one who is sincere in what he says and who has demonstrated courage and deliberation in the face of danger. His words are backed up by deeds. In speaking, Williams undergoes a risk—of capture, of treason, of permanent exile, or even assassination. And his words are critical, in two ways; they present a critique of the effectiveness of strategic nonviolence as well as a critique of white supremacy in American policy. In both cases, he solicits his audience to change their ways, to become more militant in the freedom struggle, and to understand the relationship between the racism of American domestic interventions and of American imperialism abroad.

Naturally, one might challenge Williams’s views and interpretations. One might portray him as a mere Cuban propagandist, a “puppet” of the “Castro regime.” One might impugn his moral standing, identifying him as a fugitive from justice, or a traitor—as the newspapers often did. Or one might accept his sincerity, yet doubt the effectiveness of armed self-defense or his interpretation of the federal government’s actions. Whether those challenges are valid, they do not disrupt Williams’s adoption of the role of truth-teller. Discrediting the truth-teller is one of the risks that the truth-teller might undergo. Radio Free Dixie’s mode of address interpellates the listener into the role of the parrēsiast’s audience and interlocutor, no matter how much they may protest.

What happens when music is brought into the parrēsiastic discourse, into the act of truth-telling? How does the music on Radio Free Dixie contribute to the act of truth-telling? Can music be a truth-teller?

“…exposing U.S. racism through the sounds of protest…”

Consider the broadcast of Radio Free Dixie from May 19, 1963.37 The show aired in the middle of the crisis in Birmingham, Alabama, but before the infamous church bombing that would kill four Black girls. Desegregation efforts in March and April were met with mass arrests, police brutality, and terrorist bombs. As the protests grew through the end of April, the police tactics, under the direction of Police Commissioner “Bull” Connor, grew more extreme, culminating in the use of police dogs and firehoses on protesters. On May 10, Martin Luther King helped to reach an agreement between white business owners and protesters, with hopes to enter a cooling-down period. The following day, the Gaston Motel, where King was staying, and the home King’s younger brother were bombed. Anger in the Black community—which held the city accountable for its lack of protection—and frustration with the strategy of nonviolence boiled over into violence and rebellion in the streets. In the wake of the so-called Birmingham Riot, President Kennedy sent in federal troops to preserve order in the city.

Radio Free Dixie Broadcast: May 19, 1963

1. Statement from Cuban Radio, by unidentified female voice: “The following program is brought to you as a public service. It does not necessarily reflect the official policy of this station. The facilities of this station have been made available in hope of promoting a greater understanding of the Afro-American and his struggle for freedom in North America. The revolutionary people of Cuba sympathize with all peoples who struggle for social justice. It is in this spirit that we proudly allocate the following hour in an act of solidarity, peace, and friendship with our oppressed North American brothers.” Radio Free Dixie theme song. Music ducks under the voice of Jo Salas (JS): “From Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas, Radio Free Dixie invites you to listen to the free voice of the South. Stay with us for music, news, and commentary by Robert F. Williams.” Music fades out. 
2. Josh White, “Crying Who? Crying You,” from Chain Gang Songs (Elektra Records, 1958). 
3. Josh White, “Trouble,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
4. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the free voice of the South, exiled from the racist USA.” 
5. Josh White, “’Twas on a Monday,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
6. The CORE Freedom Singers, “Get Your Rights, Jack,” from Sit-In Songs: Songs of the Freedom Riders (Dauntless Records, 1962). 
7. JS: “As a service to the oppressed, Radio Free Dixie presents an editorial from the segment of the U.S. press that defends the human rights of Afro-Americans.” Mabel Williams (MW) reads an editorial from the Washington Afro-American, April 27, 1963, entitled “Warsaw Ghetto’s Lesson and William L. Moore.” 
8. Bill McAdoo, “Go Down Moses,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Volume 2 (Folkways Records, 1961). 
9. CORE Freedom Singers, “I Woke Up This Morning,” from Sit-In Songs. 
10. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, covering the Southland like Paul Revere.” 
11. Bill McAdoo, “You Can’t Let Little Children Starve to Death,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Vol. 2. 
12. JS: “Radio Free Dixie now presents Robert F. Williams, Afro-American refugee from racial oppression in the USA, and author of the new revolutionary book Negro with Guns…. Robert is editor of the Crusader-in-Exile and is a former official of the NAACP. He and his family escaped a lynch mob aided by the Kennedy administration and have been given asylum in revolutionary Cuba.” Fade into opening drum tattoo, choir, and fife, from Paul Robeson, “John Brown’s Body.” Fade out. Commentary by Robert F. Williams (RFW), discussing recent events in Birmingham. The commentary interprets Kennedy’s act of sending in federal troops to Birmingham as a defense of white citizens, coming at the moment when Blacks in Birmingham began to fight back. RFW encourages more acts of self-defense and preparation for a life-or-death struggle. “Birmingham is just the beginning. We must be willing to suffer jail, we must be willing to suffer death and we must be willing to kill for freedom…. With a thunderous voice, let our battle cry be heard around the world: Freedom, freedom, freedom now or death!” Fade in to Robeson, “John Brown’s Body.” Music ducked below JS: “You have just heard Robert F. Williams. Listeners interested in a copy of The Crusader newsletter should write to The Crusader, 21 Ellis Gardens, Toronto CA.” Music returns, with the phrase “Glory, glory, hallelujah.” Fade out. 
13. Odetta, “Spiritual Trilogy,” from Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (Tradition Recordings, 1957). 
14. Odetta, “Alabama Bound,” from Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues. 
15. JS: “And now Carlos Moore [CM] with the news highlights.” Sound of teletype machine in background. CM reads headlines describing the protests happening across the United States, and the support of nations around the world for the protesters in Birmingham. The masses are growing impatient. “Washington DC, Kennedy has quietly passed the word for a national campaign to lower tensions before the possibility of a race war…NYC, white liberals are shaken by the new fightback and self-defense spirit of the South; and will withhold funds if it isn’t non-violence…. So goes justice in the free world of the racist USA.” Fade out teletype. 
16. Bill McAdoo, “Ballad of Sam Mabrey,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Volume 2. Music ducked below JS: “Radio Free Dixie has been coming your way from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas.” Gives the address for listeners to write the show and air times: Friday 11–12, Sunday 12–1, Tuesday 12–1. Music fades back in. 
1. Statement from Cuban Radio, by unidentified female voice: “The following program is brought to you as a public service. It does not necessarily reflect the official policy of this station. The facilities of this station have been made available in hope of promoting a greater understanding of the Afro-American and his struggle for freedom in North America. The revolutionary people of Cuba sympathize with all peoples who struggle for social justice. It is in this spirit that we proudly allocate the following hour in an act of solidarity, peace, and friendship with our oppressed North American brothers.” Radio Free Dixie theme song. Music ducks under the voice of Jo Salas (JS): “From Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas, Radio Free Dixie invites you to listen to the free voice of the South. Stay with us for music, news, and commentary by Robert F. Williams.” Music fades out. 
2. Josh White, “Crying Who? Crying You,” from Chain Gang Songs (Elektra Records, 1958). 
3. Josh White, “Trouble,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
4. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the free voice of the South, exiled from the racist USA.” 
5. Josh White, “’Twas on a Monday,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
6. The CORE Freedom Singers, “Get Your Rights, Jack,” from Sit-In Songs: Songs of the Freedom Riders (Dauntless Records, 1962). 
7. JS: “As a service to the oppressed, Radio Free Dixie presents an editorial from the segment of the U.S. press that defends the human rights of Afro-Americans.” Mabel Williams (MW) reads an editorial from the Washington Afro-American, April 27, 1963, entitled “Warsaw Ghetto’s Lesson and William L. Moore.” 
8. Bill McAdoo, “Go Down Moses,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Volume 2 (Folkways Records, 1961). 
9. CORE Freedom Singers, “I Woke Up This Morning,” from Sit-In Songs. 
10. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, covering the Southland like Paul Revere.” 
11. Bill McAdoo, “You Can’t Let Little Children Starve to Death,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Vol. 2. 
12. JS: “Radio Free Dixie now presents Robert F. Williams, Afro-American refugee from racial oppression in the USA, and author of the new revolutionary book Negro with Guns…. Robert is editor of the Crusader-in-Exile and is a former official of the NAACP. He and his family escaped a lynch mob aided by the Kennedy administration and have been given asylum in revolutionary Cuba.” Fade into opening drum tattoo, choir, and fife, from Paul Robeson, “John Brown’s Body.” Fade out. Commentary by Robert F. Williams (RFW), discussing recent events in Birmingham. The commentary interprets Kennedy’s act of sending in federal troops to Birmingham as a defense of white citizens, coming at the moment when Blacks in Birmingham began to fight back. RFW encourages more acts of self-defense and preparation for a life-or-death struggle. “Birmingham is just the beginning. We must be willing to suffer jail, we must be willing to suffer death and we must be willing to kill for freedom…. With a thunderous voice, let our battle cry be heard around the world: Freedom, freedom, freedom now or death!” Fade in to Robeson, “John Brown’s Body.” Music ducked below JS: “You have just heard Robert F. Williams. Listeners interested in a copy of The Crusader newsletter should write to The Crusader, 21 Ellis Gardens, Toronto CA.” Music returns, with the phrase “Glory, glory, hallelujah.” Fade out. 
13. Odetta, “Spiritual Trilogy,” from Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (Tradition Recordings, 1957). 
14. Odetta, “Alabama Bound,” from Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues. 
15. JS: “And now Carlos Moore [CM] with the news highlights.” Sound of teletype machine in background. CM reads headlines describing the protests happening across the United States, and the support of nations around the world for the protesters in Birmingham. The masses are growing impatient. “Washington DC, Kennedy has quietly passed the word for a national campaign to lower tensions before the possibility of a race war…NYC, white liberals are shaken by the new fightback and self-defense spirit of the South; and will withhold funds if it isn’t non-violence…. So goes justice in the free world of the racist USA.” Fade out teletype. 
16. Bill McAdoo, “Ballad of Sam Mabrey,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Volume 2. Music ducked below JS: “Radio Free Dixie has been coming your way from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas.” Gives the address for listeners to write the show and air times: Friday 11–12, Sunday 12–1, Tuesday 12–1. Music fades back in. 

The first three songs come from Josh White’s 1958 LP, Chain Gang Songs, a remake of White’s previous recordings of chain gang songs from 1940. White’s clear, rounded vocals rise above a small rhythm section—guitar, bass, drums—and a quartet of male voices. The songs explore themes of incarceration and forced labor. Songs like “Crying Who? Crying You,” “Trouble,” and “’Twas on a Monday” describe how the police and the courts are deployed against its Black protagonist, and the brutal conditions of prison life: “Please, Mr. Boss man, tell me what I've done / How come you lock me ’way from the light of sun?…Jail guard beat me so much, right down to my shoes / Say he’ll kill a black man, but knows I'll kill him too.” “Well, I always been in trouble, ’cause I'm a black-skinned man / Said I hit a white man, [and they] locked me in the can. / They took me to the stockade, wouldn't give me no trial. / The judge said, ‘You black boy, forty years on the hard rock pile.’”

“Get Your Rights, Jack,” by the CORE Freedom Singers, is a contrafact of the Ray Charles song “Hit the Road, Jack.” Instead of Ray Charles playing the shiftless lover, being told to “hit the road” by the Raelettes, here the male voices play the role of “Jack,” who gets chastised by the female voices for his lack of fidelity to the freedom struggle. “Get Your Rights, Jack, and don’t be a Tom no more,” they implore. Whereas the set of Josh White songs introduces broad themes of punitive racial injustice at the hands of the law, “Get Your Rights, Jack” situates the remediation of injustice within the civil rights movement and goads the listener to action through comic disidentification.

Bill McAdoo’s accusatory song “You Can’t Let Little Children Starve to Death” precedes Robert Williams’s commentary. It points a finger at Jimmie H. Davis, the segregationist governor of Louisiana, elected in 1960. Davis ran on a platform that included a set of welfare reforms targeting Black, unwed mothers and their children.38 After his election Davis signed into law a bill that kicked almost 23,000 children off the welfare rolls, exacerbating poverty and class divisions. With his shouting, sharp-edged baritone voice spilling over with outrage, McAdoo sings: “Tell the state of Louisiana, where the Jim Crow banners fly, you can’t let little children starve to death.”

Williams’s commentary focuses on the Kennedy administration’s order to send federal troops into Birmingham. Williams situates it within a larger pattern of government inaction over defending the legal rights of African Americans. He argues that, historically, governmental promises about the rights of Black people have remained unenforced when those rights were being taken away by the police, the Klan, or racist judges. The government is inert as children and women are hosed, beaten, and attacked by police dogs. This is because the government does not care about violence toward Black people, but acts only when white blood is in danger of being spilled. Only after Blacks in Birmingham began to defend themselves were federal troops ordered to “maintain the peace.”39 “Don’t be fooled,” argues Williams, “Slick John [Kennedy] is a racist ofay and he couldn’t bear to see white heads being cracked.” Williams argues that freedom does not come without toil and that one must be willing to suffer and even die in the name of freedom. With voice rising, Williams closes his commentary: “With a thunderous voice let our battle cry be heard around the world. Freedom, freedom, freedom now, or death.”

The repetition of the word freedom is carried over into the next track, Odetta’s “Spiritual Trilogy.” Over the quiet sound of her finger-picked guitar, Odetta’s husky contralto voice intones the phrase, “Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me.” Often named “the voice of the civil rights movement,” Odetta’s renditions of folksongs, spirituals, and blues drew their power from an engagement with the history of Black experience in America. According to Matthew Frye Jacobson, Odetta’s work was as much musical as it was that of a “public archivist, delivering up to consciousness some long-suppressed historical sound and scenes that might motivate the black people in her audience and that might accuse, remind, challenge, and prod the white people.”40 Her performance at the March on Washington has indelibly associated her with the nonviolent side of the civil rights movement, but in the context of Radio Free Dixie, one hears a militant undertone in Odetta’s voice, one that resonates in the interval between “freedom, freedom now” and “death.” “Before I’d be a slave,” she sings, “I’d be buried in my grave.”

Odetta voices self-determination; her address is directed to an interlocutor, present or absent, who will be denied in their attempts at subjugation. This is a musical moment of parrēsia, speaking from “below,” speaking out with sincerity and from a sense of duty, speaking out despite the dangers of doing so. At this moment in the broadcast, the organization of speech and music creates an abutting of two parrēsiastic utterances, both articulating the risk that links “freedom” to “death.” One hears in Odetta’s singing an unremarked militancy that is stressed in Williams’s commentary, while at the same time one hears in William’s commentary the long-suppressed historical experiences and self-determination sounded in Odetta’s music. The parrēsiastic subject that emerges here is reducible to neither Williams nor Odetta, but rather co-constituted through the juxtaposition and mutual attunement of their utterances.

Aside from incidental music, the entire broadcast is constructed from four long-playing records: White’s Chain Gang Songs, CORE’s Sit-In Songs, Bill McAdoo Sings Volume 2, and Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues. It was no easy matter to get records for Radio Free Dixie. Fleeing the FBI manhunt, Robert and Mabel’s possessions were left behind in Monroe. Through The Crusader-in-Exile, Williams solicited donations of phonograph records to support Radio Free Dixie. For instance, in the September 1962 issue, the top of page six carries this communication: “Radio Free Dixie is in desperate need of jazz, Dixieland, folk-music and recordings of the current protest movement in the South. Readers are urgently requested to send recordings.” Across the top border, the phrase “S.O.S” is printed repeatedly.41

Amiri Baraka, Richard Gibson, and William Worthy, among others, sent records.42 But they did not always arrive at their final destination. Baraka, in a letter to Williams dated December 18, 1962, writes:

I sent some records sometime ago, direct, though events of the last few months have shown me how dumb that was. Anyway, I’ve now sent them to the forwarding address…so you should get them soon. I get review records from time to time so I’ll send all I can. When your letter reached me I didn’t have any review copies so I sent some of my own records, and I think one review copy. I sent: Bags & Trane (milt jackson & john coltrane); Clyde McPhatter, Billie & Dede Pierce, which is new orleans trad.; yng trumpeter, Richard Williams; Clark Terry; Dizzy Reese; Rocky Boyd, yng saxophonist w/ Kenny Dorham. 7 records in all to start, will get more there as soon as.

Yr book is out. I’m supposed to review it for the Village Voice if they don’t chicken out. Called: Negroes With Guns. I’ve already read it. Marc [Schleifer, literary editor of Negroes with Guns] did a good job. You probably didn’t get a copy for the same reason you didn’t get records. These cats are always tampering with my mail, slicing envelopes and such. Letters from you and Mae [Mallory] are always of special interest in this free and open society.43

Williams received only a small stipend while in Cuba and had little to spend on purchasing recordings for the program.44 Despite the limitations, the use of music is efficient and effective; it contributes to the broadcast’s exposure of racism while prolonging and developing specific themes explored in commentaries and editorials. This speaks to the care that the Williamses put into the music on Radio Free Dixie. I write in the plural because, in addition to reading editorials, Mabel’s work on Radio Free Dixie included the selection and preparation of its music.45 To appreciate the Williamses’ careful, intentional use of music, it is worth studying the special episodes of Radio Free Dixie given over completely, or nearly so, to music. With only minimal commentary, these episodes continue the parrēsia typical of Radio Free Dixie. Three shows stand out in particular, each focusing on a musical genre: protest music, blues, and rock ’n’ roll.

“…these songs dramatize the true nature of American democracy…”

First, consider the following program, featuring “protest ballads and freedom songs.”46

Radio Free Dixie Broadcast: January 22, 1965

1. Announcement from Radio Progreso. RFD theme song and introduction by Jo Salas (JS). 
2. Bill McAdoo, “I Don’t Want to Have a War,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar (Folkways Records, 1960). 
3. Blind Boy Grunt (aka Bob Dylan), “John Brown,” from Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1 (Folkways Records, 1963). 
4. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, bringing you a special program of protest ballads and freedom songs of the captive people of the racist USA. These songs dramatize the true nature of American democracy, as it relates to Afro-Americans in the so-called free world of representative democracy. Radio Free Dixie is proud to present these seldom-heard songs of brutal oppression and dehumanization, that no American radio station dares broadcast. This special program is dedicated to the men, women, and children of the so-called free world who are waging a relentless struggle to civilize the social jungle of the barbaric and racist USA.” 
5. Peter La Farge, “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” on Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1. 
6. Pete Seeger, “The Ballad of Old Monroe,” from Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1. 
7. Leadbelly, “The Bourgeois Blues.”47 
8. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, broadcasting at the backdoor of Dixie in the year of revelation, with a call for freedom now.” 
9. Josh White, “Trouble,” from Chain Gang Songs (Elektra Records, 1958). 
10. Josh White, “’Twas on a Monday,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
11. Josh White, “Going Home Boys,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
12. Josh White, “Crying Who? Crying You,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
13. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, exposing U.S. racism to the whole wide world, through the sounds of protest that the so-called free world radio dares not play.” 
14. Big Bill Broonzy, “I Wonder When I’ll be Called a Man,” from Big Bill Broonzy Sings Country Blues (Folkways Records, 1957). 
15. Bill McAdoo, “Ballad of Sam Mabrey,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Vol. 2 (Folkways Records, 1961). 
16. Bill McAdoo, “I’m Gonna Walk and Talk for My Freedom,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar. 
17. Bill McAdoo, “Walk on Alabama,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar. 
18. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the revolutionary voice of Afro-American liberation, calling for unity in an all-out struggle against U.S. racism and imperialism in the year of revelation.” 
19. Nina Simone, “Old Jim Crow,” from Nina Simone in Concert (Philips, 1964). 
20. Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddamn,” from Nina Simone in Concert. 
21. Bill McAdoo, “I Don’t Want No Jim Crow Coffee,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar. 
22. Odetta, “Spiritual Trilogy,” from Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (Tradition Recordings, 1957). Music ducks below JS’s standard closing announcement. 
1. Announcement from Radio Progreso. RFD theme song and introduction by Jo Salas (JS). 
2. Bill McAdoo, “I Don’t Want to Have a War,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar (Folkways Records, 1960). 
3. Blind Boy Grunt (aka Bob Dylan), “John Brown,” from Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1 (Folkways Records, 1963). 
4. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, bringing you a special program of protest ballads and freedom songs of the captive people of the racist USA. These songs dramatize the true nature of American democracy, as it relates to Afro-Americans in the so-called free world of representative democracy. Radio Free Dixie is proud to present these seldom-heard songs of brutal oppression and dehumanization, that no American radio station dares broadcast. This special program is dedicated to the men, women, and children of the so-called free world who are waging a relentless struggle to civilize the social jungle of the barbaric and racist USA.” 
5. Peter La Farge, “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” on Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1. 
6. Pete Seeger, “The Ballad of Old Monroe,” from Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1. 
7. Leadbelly, “The Bourgeois Blues.”47 
8. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, broadcasting at the backdoor of Dixie in the year of revelation, with a call for freedom now.” 
9. Josh White, “Trouble,” from Chain Gang Songs (Elektra Records, 1958). 
10. Josh White, “’Twas on a Monday,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
11. Josh White, “Going Home Boys,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
12. Josh White, “Crying Who? Crying You,” from Chain Gang Songs. 
13. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, exposing U.S. racism to the whole wide world, through the sounds of protest that the so-called free world radio dares not play.” 
14. Big Bill Broonzy, “I Wonder When I’ll be Called a Man,” from Big Bill Broonzy Sings Country Blues (Folkways Records, 1957). 
15. Bill McAdoo, “Ballad of Sam Mabrey,” from Bill McAdoo Sings Vol. 2 (Folkways Records, 1961). 
16. Bill McAdoo, “I’m Gonna Walk and Talk for My Freedom,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar. 
17. Bill McAdoo, “Walk on Alabama,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar. 
18. Program ID. JS: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the revolutionary voice of Afro-American liberation, calling for unity in an all-out struggle against U.S. racism and imperialism in the year of revelation.” 
19. Nina Simone, “Old Jim Crow,” from Nina Simone in Concert (Philips, 1964). 
20. Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddamn,” from Nina Simone in Concert. 
21. Bill McAdoo, “I Don’t Want No Jim Crow Coffee,” from Bill McAdoo Sings, with Guitar. 
22. Odetta, “Spiritual Trilogy,” from Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (Tradition Recordings, 1957). Music ducks below JS’s standard closing announcement. 

The ballads and songs on the program are divided into three thematic blocks. The first is a set of antiwar songs. Bill McAdoo’s “I Don’t Want to Have a War” is a song of defiance and class critique. The protagonist refuses to fight because war is only in the interests of the rich: “You can throw me in jail / but you can’t change my mind.…It’s the rich who want the wars / the poor just have to fight and die.” Bob Dylan’s “John Brown” is a bitter story of a young man who, to make his mother proud, enlists for war. In the midst of battle, he realizes that he’s fighting for nothing at all, “just a puppet in a play.” At his homecoming, his mother is dismayed to see her wounded son, disfigured and disabled, as he drops a few shiny medals in her hand.48

The second block comprises a series of blues songs on the theme of mistreatment. As Michael Denning notes, “‘mistreatment’ is a common word in the blues of the period,” in which the protagonist’s woes are addressed to a variety of figures, such as a lover, a boss man, a captain, or a warden.49 These songs of mistreatment illustrate the conditions of discrimination as experienced by their protagonists under the blanket of white supremacy. While these songs occasionally refer to specific strikes, rebellions, or other topical issues, they were “more often allegories of ‘mistreatment’,” tales of black lives distilled into sound. The block begins with Leadbelly’s “The Bourgeois Blues,” which calls out Washington, DC, as a “bourgeois town,” one where poor and Black folk are disrespected. The four Josh White songs that follow come from his collection of Chain Gang Songs, previously discussed. The series ends with Big Bill Broonzy, wondering when he will be “called a man,” no longer hailed by demeaning and degrading terms like “boy.” The song, like “The Bourgeois Blues,” points its finger at daily acts of humiliation and disrespect.

The final block of songs reject Jim Crow in the name of self-determination. McAdoo’s “I’m Gonna Walk and Talk for My Freedom,” based on the spiritual “Ain’t That Good News,” asserts the power of protest: “I’m gonna walk and talk for my freedom / ain’t that good news…I’m gonna hold my sign up high now / ain’t that good news.” “Walk on Alabama” sings of the Montgomery bus boycott from the perspective of its participants: “If we don’t ride, the bus is gonna roll / Stop paying my money to that old Jim Crow / Walk on, Alabama…I’m an old man, I’m ninety-four / I’m gonna walk to work, I won’t ride no more / Walk on, Alabama.” Nina Simone’s “Old Jim Crow” comes out swinging; cycling over an eight-bar refrain, she hectors Jim Crow that time is running short for him, and good riddance: “Old Jim Crow, don’t you know, it’s all over now.” “Mississippi Goddamn,” a searing critique of incrementalism in the civil rights struggle written in Simone’s most Brechtian mode, indicts the open secret of racist terror in the South: “Everybody knows about Mississippi. Goddamn!”

Next, consider this program, focused on the blues.50

Radio Free Dixie Broadcast: May 28, 1965

1. Announcement from Radio Progreso. RFD theme song and introduction by Jo Salas (JS). 
2. Donald Byrd, “Christo Redentor,” from A New Perspective (Blue Note, 1964). 
3. Program ID. Mabel Williams introduction. 
4. Blues in the Mississippi Night, side 1 (Nixa Records, 1957). 
5. Program ID. Jo Salas: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, with a special documentary, ‘Blues in the Mississippi Night.’ This program is proudly dedicated to the gallant freedom fighters resolutely struggling against U.S. racism and imperialism.” 
6. Blues in the Mississippi Night, side 2. Midway through side 2, music ducks behind JS. Program ID #5 is repeated. 
7. Program ID. JS: “Radio Free Dixie has just presented a musical documentary called ‘Blues in the Mississippi Night’.” 
8. Donald Byrd, The Black Disciple,” from A New Perspective. Music ducked behind JS. “You have been listening to Radio Free Dixie, coming to you from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas, land where integration is an accomplished fact….” 
1. Announcement from Radio Progreso. RFD theme song and introduction by Jo Salas (JS). 
2. Donald Byrd, “Christo Redentor,” from A New Perspective (Blue Note, 1964). 
3. Program ID. Mabel Williams introduction. 
4. Blues in the Mississippi Night, side 1 (Nixa Records, 1957). 
5. Program ID. Jo Salas: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, with a special documentary, ‘Blues in the Mississippi Night.’ This program is proudly dedicated to the gallant freedom fighters resolutely struggling against U.S. racism and imperialism.” 
6. Blues in the Mississippi Night, side 2. Midway through side 2, music ducks behind JS. Program ID #5 is repeated. 
7. Program ID. JS: “Radio Free Dixie has just presented a musical documentary called ‘Blues in the Mississippi Night’.” 
8. Donald Byrd, The Black Disciple,” from A New Perspective. Music ducked behind JS. “You have been listening to Radio Free Dixie, coming to you from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas, land where integration is an accomplished fact….” 

Aside from the tracks by trumpeter Donald Byrd that open and close the episode, the program presents in its entirety the Alan Lomax produced LP, Blues in the Mississippi Night. In March of 1947, Lomax brought Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, and Sonny Boy Williamson to New York for a Midnight Special concert at Town Hall. On the Sunday after the concert, he took the three blues musicians to an unused studio at Decca Records, set up a microphone and Presto disc recorder on the floor, and recorded their music, conversation, and stories. The dialogue flowed freely among the three musicians, and Lomax captured an extraordinarily candid account of the conditions of rural life for Black people in the South and its relation to the blues. “They began with the blues as a record of the problems of love and women in the Delta world,” Lomax recollected.

They explored the cause of [the blues] in the stringent poverty of black rural life. They recalled the pleasures and dangers of life in the Mississippi work camps, where the penitentiary stood at the end of the road, waiting to receive the rebellious. Finally, they came to the enormity of the lynch system that threatened anyone who defied the rules. Then, overwhelmed by the absurdities of the Southern system they had described, they laughed their way to the end.51

For Lomax, the record represented a triumph: a document of working-class African Americans speaking, in their own voice, “sagaciously and with deep resentment about the inequities of the Southern system of racial segregation and exploitation.” But for the musicians, listening back to the recordings, there was terror. They told Lomax that if the records were ever released “they’d take it out on our folks down home; they’d burn them out and Lord knows what else.”52

Facing pressures for his leftism and association with “suspected communists,” Lomax resided in England for most of the 1950s. In trying to go along with the blues musicians’ wishes to keep the recordings private—yet wanting to make this powerful indictment public—Lomax decided to obscure the location of its recording and anonymized the names of the musicians in subsequent articles, radio documentaries, and LP records.53 The conversations, interspersed with snippets of prison songs, spirituals, and work songs, were released as Blues in the Mississippi Night, on the British label Nixa in 1957.54 Only after Memphis Slim, Broonzy, and Williamson had passed away were their identities revealed and the circumstances behind the recording made public.55

It is unclear if Robert and Mabel Williams knew the identities of the musicians or the elaborate story behind the recording of Blues in the Mississippi Night. I presume that they did not. But they understood that the recording bore witness to racist mistreatment in the South. Mabel Williams’s spoken introduction makes this perfectly clear:

Radio Free Dixie takes great pleasure tonight in presenting a special documentary entitled “Blues in the Mississippi Night.” This documentary describes the social conditions that existed in the South of the USA from 1890 to the 1940s. This was the era when the blues were born. This recording relates the story of a people brutally oppressed and dehumanized, whose tears became a music that only the heavy at heart can feel, play, and understand. The Afro-American today lives in a new era but the attitude of the racist oppressor remains the same. This recording was made in England and until this day the identities of the artists remain anonymous because of fear of racist violence in the social jungle of the South. In glorious tribute to those gallant Americans who are struggling and dying to change these barbaric conditions, Radio Free Dixie proudly dedicates this program, “Blues in the Mississippi Night.”56

The songs and conversations on Blues in the Mississippi Night, are acts of truth-telling; they speak forcefully and damningly about the system of white supremacy. Yet there is a complication here. While the conversations speak frankly about injustice and violence, the music does so in a different manner by strategically veiling its messages. According to Broonzy, the blues were a way of expressing one’s feeling about the situation to the people in the situation in “the only way he [the blues musician] knows to say those things.” He explains, “I’ve known guys that wanted to cuss out the boss and he was afraid to go up to his face and tell him what he wanted to tell him.” The guy might “sing those things—sing words, you know—back to the boss—just behind the wagon, hookin’ up to the horses…” He might “go to work and go to singin’ and say things to the horse…[or] make like the mule stepped on his foot—say ‘Get off my foot, goddamn it!’ or something like that, you know, and he meant he was talkin’ to the boss. ‘You son of a bitch,’ he say, ‘You got no business on my—, stay off my foot’ and such things like that…that’s the point.”57 “Yeah,” agrees Memphis Slim, “blues is a kind of revenge. You know you want to say something…you want to [be] signifyin’ like—that’s the blues.” If there were “things we couldn’t say,” then “we sing it.” By putting feelings and experiences into coded utterances, the blues makes them available to others in the know, despite the system of racial oppression and exploitation. As coded utterances, “the blues and the spirituals are somewhat on the same order,” says Memphis Slim.

Spoken in the presence of oppressors but misunderstood by them, the blues is a type of “coded utterance,” veiled because of the retribution it might incur, but uttered nevertheless. Its subversive content, a secret communication, is heard by those attuned to its message. Although lack of frankness contradicts Foucault’s first criterion of parrēsia, I would argue that the unique historical conditions of African Americans and the widespread system of white supremacy that they have endured require revising and reconsidering the weighting of parrēsia’s various characteristics. First, if those in power refuse to grant the truth-teller the right to speak the truth, if they refuse to engage in the parrēsiastic game altogether, there must still be value in speaking the truth to others, even if encoded and subversive.58 Second, if the risk to life is too great, there remains strategic value on speaking in codes and living to fight another day rather than dying for speaking frankly. But that does not mean that the utterance is spoken without risk; rather, the nature of the risk has changed. The risk is now that of discovery, that the coded utterance will be decoded by those “above.”

When Blues in the Mississippi Night is played in the context of Radio Free Dixie, the coded utterances recorded in the music are juxtaposed with the overt frankness of the musicians’ conversation and Williams’s address. A transformation happens: the codes are decoded; they are made available not just to the community in the know but to all the listeners within the radio signal’s sphere of propagation. Radio Free Dixie creates a zone where the latent content of the blues is made overt. As in the discussion of Odetta, the intersection of music and speech on Radio Free Dixie solicits the listener to a mode of “militant listening,” one that hears frankness in that which is coded and overtness in that which is hidden. The parrēsiastic subject of Radio Free Dixie, co-constituted by music and speech, creates the conditions in which the coded utterance can be recognized not as a rhetorical cover to avoid risk but as a strategic opacity, one that registers the long historical struggle with white supremacy and the manifold ways that African Americans have navigated its dire straits.

Lastly, consider this broadcast, on “the soul side of rock ’n’ roll.”59

Radio Free Dixie Broadcast: January 21, 1966

1. Announcement from Radio Progreso. Radio Free Dixie theme song and introduction by Jo Salas (JS). 
2. Jimmy Smith, “When My Dream Boat Comes Home” from Rockin’ the Boat (Blue Note Records, 1963). Fades out during the saxophone solo. 
3. Jr. Walker and the All Starts, “Hot Cha” from Shotgun (Soul Records, 1965).60 
4. Ramsey Lewis, “The ‘In’ Crowd” from The “In” Crowd (Argo, 1965). 
5. King Curtis, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” from Doing the Dixie Twist (Tru-Sound Records, 1962). Music ducks under Mabel Williams (MW): “Radio Free Dixie is presenting the soul side of rock, in the year of fire. Today in many quarters the term rock ’n’ roll carries bad connotations. In light of the new relativity of music to social locomotion and discourse, it is past time for a serious examination of the soul side of rock and roll.” MW contextualizes the rock ‘n’ roll musician within a broader history of blues and spirituals, and their ability to communicate in veiled forms. Music fades back in. 
6. Joe Tex, “Together We Stand,” from Hold What You’ve Got (Atlantic Records, 1965). 
7. The Impressions, “Keep on Pushing,” from Big Sixteen (His Master’s Voice, 1965).61 
8. The Impressions, “Meeting Over Yonder,” from Big Sixteen. 
9. The Impressions, “People Get Ready,” from Big Sixteen. 
10. MW: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the voice of armed self-defense, broadcasting in the year of fire.” 
11. Little Milton, “We’re Gonna Make It,” (Checker, 1965). 
12. Joe Tex, “King of the Road,” from The New Boss (Atlantic, 1965). 
13. Joe Tex, “Detroit City,” from The New Boss. 
14. Fade into John Philip Sousa’s “Dixie,” from the soundtrack to Stars and Stripes Forever. MW introduces Robert F. Williams (RFW). RFW’s commentary critiques Robert Weaver’s appointment to LBJ’s cabinet, a “triumph of tokenism,” and juxtaposes the gains of one Black man against the great masses of Black people still denied constitutional rights. “Common street dogs enjoy more protection than Black humans in the racist USA. If we want protection we must protect ourselves…. We are now in the year of fire. This is going to be a violent, and long hot summer. Prepare for it. Only a fool will turn the other cheek…. In the spirit of ’76, in the spirit of Watts, in the cause of justice and freedom, let our people take to the streets in fierce numbers and meet violence with violence. Let our battle cry be heard around the world: freedom, freedom, freedom now, or death!” 
15. Otis Redding, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” from Otis Redding Sings Soul (Volt Records, 1965). 
16. Walter Jackson, “Blowing in the Wind,” from Welcome Home: The Many Moods of Walter Jackson (Okeh Records, 1965). 
17. MW: “You are tuned to RFD, broadcasting at the backdoor of Dixie, like Paul Revere, in the year of fire.” 
18. Walter Jackson, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” from Welcome Home. 
19. The Impressions, “Get Up and Move,” from People Get Ready. 
20. Otis Redding, “Ole Man Trouble,” from Otis Redding Sings Soul
21. MW reports on resolutions adopted at Tri-Continental Conference, Havana, January 3–12, 1966. 
22. Junior Walker, “Shotgun,” from Shotgun. 
23. Jimmy Smith, “When My Dreamboat Comes Home,” fades in from the saxophone solo (see #1). Music ducks below MW: “You have been listening to RFD, with the soul side of rock and roll, the new wave of communication, coming to you from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas, land where integration is an accomplished fact.” 
1. Announcement from Radio Progreso. Radio Free Dixie theme song and introduction by Jo Salas (JS). 
2. Jimmy Smith, “When My Dream Boat Comes Home” from Rockin’ the Boat (Blue Note Records, 1963). Fades out during the saxophone solo. 
3. Jr. Walker and the All Starts, “Hot Cha” from Shotgun (Soul Records, 1965).60 
4. Ramsey Lewis, “The ‘In’ Crowd” from The “In” Crowd (Argo, 1965). 
5. King Curtis, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” from Doing the Dixie Twist (Tru-Sound Records, 1962). Music ducks under Mabel Williams (MW): “Radio Free Dixie is presenting the soul side of rock, in the year of fire. Today in many quarters the term rock ’n’ roll carries bad connotations. In light of the new relativity of music to social locomotion and discourse, it is past time for a serious examination of the soul side of rock and roll.” MW contextualizes the rock ‘n’ roll musician within a broader history of blues and spirituals, and their ability to communicate in veiled forms. Music fades back in. 
6. Joe Tex, “Together We Stand,” from Hold What You’ve Got (Atlantic Records, 1965). 
7. The Impressions, “Keep on Pushing,” from Big Sixteen (His Master’s Voice, 1965).61 
8. The Impressions, “Meeting Over Yonder,” from Big Sixteen. 
9. The Impressions, “People Get Ready,” from Big Sixteen. 
10. MW: “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the voice of armed self-defense, broadcasting in the year of fire.” 
11. Little Milton, “We’re Gonna Make It,” (Checker, 1965). 
12. Joe Tex, “King of the Road,” from The New Boss (Atlantic, 1965). 
13. Joe Tex, “Detroit City,” from The New Boss. 
14. Fade into John Philip Sousa’s “Dixie,” from the soundtrack to Stars and Stripes Forever. MW introduces Robert F. Williams (RFW). RFW’s commentary critiques Robert Weaver’s appointment to LBJ’s cabinet, a “triumph of tokenism,” and juxtaposes the gains of one Black man against the great masses of Black people still denied constitutional rights. “Common street dogs enjoy more protection than Black humans in the racist USA. If we want protection we must protect ourselves…. We are now in the year of fire. This is going to be a violent, and long hot summer. Prepare for it. Only a fool will turn the other cheek…. In the spirit of ’76, in the spirit of Watts, in the cause of justice and freedom, let our people take to the streets in fierce numbers and meet violence with violence. Let our battle cry be heard around the world: freedom, freedom, freedom now, or death!” 
15. Otis Redding, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” from Otis Redding Sings Soul (Volt Records, 1965). 
16. Walter Jackson, “Blowing in the Wind,” from Welcome Home: The Many Moods of Walter Jackson (Okeh Records, 1965). 
17. MW: “You are tuned to RFD, broadcasting at the backdoor of Dixie, like Paul Revere, in the year of fire.” 
18. Walter Jackson, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” from Welcome Home. 
19. The Impressions, “Get Up and Move,” from People Get Ready. 
20. Otis Redding, “Ole Man Trouble,” from Otis Redding Sings Soul
21. MW reports on resolutions adopted at Tri-Continental Conference, Havana, January 3–12, 1966. 
22. Junior Walker, “Shotgun,” from Shotgun. 
23. Jimmy Smith, “When My Dreamboat Comes Home,” fades in from the saxophone solo (see #1). Music ducks below MW: “You have been listening to RFD, with the soul side of rock and roll, the new wave of communication, coming to you from Havana, Cuba, free territory of the Americas, land where integration is an accomplished fact.” 

Coming near the end of Radio Free Dixie’s run, this episode is one discussed by Timothy Tyson, where the sound of “freedom jazz” dances behind Mabel Williams’s voice. As noted above, the music ducked beneath her introduction is King Curtis’s cover of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” By considering that track within the entire playlist, its selection makes more sense. Curtis’s instrumental, and the Jimmy Smith track that opens the show, are both rhythm-and-blues influenced performances of older standards. Jimmy Smith’s performance of “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” is modeled on Fats Domino’s remake of the old Guy Lombardo hit. Curtis, an accomplished jazz musician, became associated with rhythm and blues through his famous saxophone solos on the Coasters’ “Charlie Brown” and “Yakety Yak” and his solo hit, “Soul Twist.” His version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” comes from an entire album of songs associated with the South, called Doing the Dixie Twist.

Mabel Williams’s introduction to the show relates “the soul side of rock ’n’ roll”—that is, soul music or rhythm and blues—to themes addressed in the “protest music” show and in “Blues in the Mississippi Night.” She describes how rock ’n’ roll musicians are undergoing a transformation, “becoming ever more conscious of the current, universal, social problems.” Instead of being dismissed as “screaming, stomping alley cats without a message…the vanguard rock ’n’ rollers today are beginning to communicate…to poeticize the longing, the suffering, the dehumanization, and aspirations of a people in bondage. Today, they scream defiance.” Like the blues, spirituals, and protest music often heard on Radio Free Dixie, the rock ’n’ roll songs selected for the program dramatize experiences of Black lives and speak back to the system of racist oppression. “Rock ’n’ roll musicians are becoming the epic poets of the Afro-American revolt.” They employ various degrees of coded utterance. “Like the spirituals of their forefathers, who defied and baffled the brutal slave master with the musical code of communication…the social conscious rock and roller today dispatches a message that only those possessing the light condition and receptive soul of a blood brother in travail can truly dig.”62

Some of the songs are barely veiled. Little Milton sings about how “We’re Gonna Make It,” and Otis Redding’s voice brings added intensity and struggle to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Others are more lightly veiled, or “poeticized,” to use Mabel Williams’s word. In the various songs performed by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions—“Keep on Pushing,” “Meeting Over Yonder,” and “People Get Ready”—the aims of the Freedom Movement are uttered through metaphors about travel, motion, and the horizon. “People get ready, there’s a train coming / You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board.” The destination is “yonder,” and people will be “moving on up.” Mayfield’s falsetto cuts through the musical texture, imploring the listener to prepare for the event that is yet to come.

Mabel Williams’s comments on the social consciousness of rhythm and blues are echoed by her contemporary Black radicals. Amiri Baraka describes how his own relationship to popular music changed in the mid-1960s, as “rhythm and blues took on a special significance and meaning.” The music was “reflecting the rising tide of the people’s struggles.” The Impressions’ “Keep on Pushing,” with its more overt message, was for Baraka “one of our themes, and all of us would try for Curtis Mayfield’s keening falsetto with the Impressions.” But “Martha and the Vandellas’ ‘Dancing in the Streets’ was like our national anthem. Their ‘Heat Wave’ had signaled earlier, downtown, that shit was on the rise. But ‘Dancing in the Streets,’ which spoke to us of Harlem and all the other places, then Watts and later Newark and Detroit, seemed to say it all out. ‘Summer’s here and the time is near / for dancing in the streets!’”63

These comments on rhythm and blues point in the same direction: Some songs are coded utterances, dispatching a “communication” to those possessing the ability to hear them. Abutting speech and music makes for a porous border, where the meaning of the speech bleeds into the music and the meaning of the music amplifies and filters the speech. The moments of contact are the most powerful: When Little Milton’s affirmation “We’re gonna make it” resounds as “You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie, the voice of armed self-defense” echoes in the listener’s ear; or when the contagious groove of Ramsey Lewis’s “In Crowd” is modulated by “a message that only those possessing the light condition and receptive soul of a blood brother in travail can truly dig”; or when, on the heels of Mabel Williams’s editorial about Third World solidarity against American racism, the sudden blast of a shotgun rings out, then a funky drum break, and finally Junior Walker’s saxophone singing, growling, and dancing between the beats.

“Shotgun” was released in February of 1965, in the interval between the uprisings in Harlem and in Watts. The song was inspired by—or perhaps conjured up—a dance called “the shotgun” that involved the gesture of cocking, cradling, and firing off the weapon. (Indeed, its lyrics mention other contemporary dances like “the jerk” and “the twine.”) What coded message was being communicated by the dancers doing the shotgun, and what might have been understood by those performing its gestures or supplying the music for it? In the context of Radio Free Dixie, the code is cracked. Given Williams’s advocacy for armed self-defense, his early successes at repelling the Klan in Monroe, his ongoing strategic calls to “meet violence with violence,” his nomination of 1965 as “the year of fire,” and his warning to “prepare” for a “long hot summer” of urban rebellion—Junior Walker’s “Shotgun” seems “to say it all out,” strong as a high-kilowatt long wave, clearing the interference.

Put on your red dress
And then you go downtown now
I said, Buy yourself a shotgun now
We're going to break it down baby now
We're going to load it up baby now
Oh can you shoot ’em ’fore they run now?

“…stay tuned…”

In the autumn of 1964, while Robert and Mabel Williams were traveling in China, Radio Free Dixie was quietly moved from Radio Progreso’s 50,000-watt transmitter to a small 1,000-watt transmitter.64 The details are hard to reconstruct, but based on Cohen’s biography and Williams’s open letter to Castro, it appears that Radio Progreso’s main transmitter in Havana stopped broadcasting Radio Free Dixie, but it continued to be beamed from a relay station in Santa Clara—likely CMHG, which operated just a notch down the dial, at 670 megahertz.65 It was still on the air, but barely so.

Why was Radio Free Dixie moved? Likely, Williams’s efforts were sabotaged due to his ongoing disagreements with the Communist Party in Cuba and his developing closeness with China and Mao Zedong. On his return to Cuba, Williams was assured that Radio Free Dixie would be increased back to 50,000 watts. Yet appeals to Castro came to naught, and the program never returned to Radio Progeso. By the spring of 1966 the Williamses stopped producing Radio Free Dixie and The Crusader-in-Exile, and by July they were headed to Peking, leaving Cuban asylum behind.

I presume that listeners in the United States, scanning the bottom end of the AM band on a cold January evening in 1966, had a hard time receiving 1,000 watts of “Shotgun” modulating a carrier wave’s amplitude, spreading like concentric circles, radiating at the speed of light though the ether from Havana. But it did not really matter, since everyone in the States had been dancing to “Shotgun” all through the summer of 1965. Or to say it differently, even as Radio Free Dixie’s signal faded, the strategic, militant activism that Williams advocated was waxing within the Freedom Movement and within Black political consciousness. The ideas, commentaries, and editorials broadcast on Radio Free Dixie helped to orient the direction that Black Power would follow. But that is only part of the story.

What I have been trying to argue is that the music on Radio Free Dixie must be considered as well. This is not because of any equation between “free jazz” and political militancy but rather because of the music’s role in both the construction of Radio Free Dixie’s parrēsiastic subject and its solicitation of a mode of “militant listening.” The voice that speaks on Radio Free Dixie is not simply that of Robert or Mabel Williams but also that of Josh White, Odetta, Nina Simone, Bill McAdoo, the Freedom Singers, Leadbelly, and Curtis Mayfield. The parrēsiastic subject of Radio Free Dixie is found in that ensemble voice. Its act of truth-telling—both overt and veiled—solicits a mode of listening that hears a militant message in that which is, paradoxically but without contradiction, both coded and direct, clear and opaque, figured and unfigured. The playlists, through their abutments of speech and music, make militancy audible by bringing attention to other accents, inflections, and counter-rhythms that previously went unnoticed. Radio Free Dixie’s sonic weave catches the listener and clings to their ear. It vibrates like a tank circuit, a resonant filter; it amplifies and selects; it attunes to different fundamentals and higher partials. You are tuned to Radio Free Dixie.

Notes

1.

“Cuba Aims Show at U.S. Negroes,” Plain Dealer, October 8, 1962, 11; “‘Havana Hannah’ Has a Hopeless Job,” Plain Dealer, October 9, 1962, 18; “Anti-U.S. Radio on Air Fridays,” Plain Dealer, October 10, 1962, 15.

2.

In fact, Williams had already notified the press by July 1962. Both the Baltimore Afro-American and the Associated Press reported that month on Williams and Radio Free Dixie. “Robert Williams Begins Cuban Radio Broadcasts, ” The Afro-American, July 28, 1962, 18; “Williams to Talk on Radio Havana, ” Times-Picayune, July 29, 1962, 18.

3.

The song appeared in the May 1962 issue of Broadside. Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds, “The Story of Old Monroe,” Broadside, May 1962.

4.

“Turncoat Negro Airs Castro Line,” Dallas Morning News, October 14, 1962, 6.

5.

Michel Foucault, Discourse and Truth and Parrēsia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), 68. Some of Foucault’s commentators have argued that his work on truth-telling has roots in his encounters with Black political movements, racism, and incarceration in America. For instance, see Brady Thomas Heiner, “Foucault and the Black Panthers,” City 11, no. 3 (2007).

6.

Robert F. Williams, Negroes with Guns (Mansfield Center, CT: Martino Publishing, 2013), 54.

7.

Ibid., 57.

8.

Ibid., 40.

9.

Ibid., 52.

10.

Ibid., 59.

11.

Ibid., 40–41.

12.

Maxwell C. Stanford (Muhammad Ahmad), “Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM): A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society” (MA thesis, Atlanta University, 1986), 47. For a related reading of Williams as a “third trend,” see Harold Cruse, Rebellion or Revolution? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 80.

13.

Charles E. Cobb, Jr., This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 2. Many instances of the close relationship of armed self-defense and nonviolent actions (boycotts, demonstrations, and voter drives) are detailed in Akinyele Omowale Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

14.

Cobb, This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed, 7. and Umoja, We Will Shoot Back, 45–47.

15.

Williams felt that the Freedom Riders, by publicly proclaiming their commitment to nonviolence, were “inviting full-scale violent attack.” Williams, Negroes with Guns, 80.

16.

Mae Mallory, the New York activist, was in Williams’s house during the events, working to protect the Freedom Riders. She was charged, extradited, and served four years in prison for the frame-up.

17.

Mabel Williams, from Robert F. Williams: Self-Respect, Self-Defense and Self-Determination, as told by Mabel Williams (Oakland, CA: The Freedom Archives / AK Press, 2005), compact disc.

18.

Interview with Robert F. Williams by James Mosby, July 22–23, 1970, Civil Rights Documentation Project, Howard University, Series A, Box 159–17, Folder 29, 176.

19.

Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 224.

20.

Julian Mayfield, “Challenge to Negro Leadership: The Case of Robert Williams,” Commentary 31 (1961): 300. Williams’s views about racism in Cuba matured during the course of his exile. Carlos Moore, who worked with Williams as a newsreader on Radio Free Dixie, argues that Castro disguised the reality of racism in Cuba by portraying Cuba as a racial utopia and his savvy use of anticolonial and Afrophilic discourse. For Moore, Williams’s enthusiasm for Cuba made him an accomplice in Cuba’s racial-political strategy. Through Radio Free Dixie and The Crusader-in-Exile, an international message was being sent, namely: “American Blacks must convert the U.S. into another Sierra Maestra; black Africa must stand behind a regime that is the friend and protector of the world’s oppressed black people. Havana could hardly have found a better emissary to convey its redemptionist message to the black continent.” Carlos Moore, Castro, the Blacks, and Africa (Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, 1988), 121–22. For Williams’s mature views about racism in Cuba, see Interview with Robert F. Williams by James Mosby, Civil Rights Documentation Project, Howard University, 187ff.

21.

It is hard to underestimate the significance of Baraka’s first encounter with Williams and with Cuban revolutionaries. “The Cuban trip was a turning point in my life,” Baraka would later write in his autobiography. Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1997), 243. See “Cuba Libre, ” in Home: Social Essays (New York: Akashi Classics, 2009), 21–67. Baraka elaborated Williams’s ideas about armed self-defense in essays from the early 1960s, such as “What Does Nonviolence Mean?” and “The Last Days of the American Empire (Including Some Instructions for Black People),” before moving closer to the Black nationalism of Malcom X. For other perspectives on the trip to Cuba, see Mayfield, “Challenge to Negro Leadership: The Case of Robert Williams”; John Henrik Clarke, “Journey to the Sierra Maestra,” Freedomways 1, no. 1 (1961); Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New York: Morrow, 1967), 356–57.

22.

Robert Carl Cohen, Black Crusader: A Biography of Robert Franklin Williams (Portland, OR: Jorvik Press, 2015), 205.

23.

In June of 1962, the Ministry of Communications formed the Instituto Cubano de Radiodifusion (ICR) to oversee Cuban radio. In Williams’s open letter to Castro, he mentions the problems he ran into with the ICR. See Letter to Fidel Castro, August 28, 1966, Papers of James E. Jackson and and Esther Cooper Jackson TAM 347, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University, Box 6, Folder 14.

24.

Cohen, Black Crusader, 206. Cohen’s account of Cuban radio wattages corresponds with declassified CIA documents on Cuban broadcasting. Electronics Facilities in Cuba (Supplement), EP 63–5.

25.

Cohen, Black Crusader, 206.

26.

Ibid., 217.

27.

Ibid., 220.

28.

This might be due to Tyson’s dismissal of the self-determined, nationalist direction that Williams’s thought took during his exile. “Like the Black Power movement itself, as Williams got farther from his roots in the South, he sometimes drifted into apocalyptic visions of black revolution. Though he had been one of the best organizers in the black freedom movement, his isolation from a local constituency made him vulnerable to the same frustrations, delusions, and ‘illusory revolutionary rhetoric’…that plagued the movement as a whole in the last half of the 1960s.” Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 229. For a thoughtful response see Walter Rucker, “Crusader in Exile: Robert F. Williams and the International Struggle for Black Freedom in America,” Black Scholar 36, no. 2/3 (2006).

29.

Cristina Mislan, “‘In the spirit of ’76 Venceremos!’ Nationalizing and Transnationalizing Self-Defense on Radio Free Dixie, ” American Journalism (2015): 1; “Transnationalism, Revolution and Race: The Case of Cuba's Radio Free Dixie” (PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 2013). Tom McEnaney, Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017).

30.

Mabel Williams, transcribed from Self-respect, self-defense and self-determination, track 17. Cohen, working with taped interviews, describes the use of music as intended “to try to develop a feeling akin to that found in the ‘Holy Roller’ churches, where the congregations are so moved by music and chanting that powerful, normally suppressed emotions are released. Once the music had put the audience in a receptive frame of mind, the message was to be delivered.” Similarly, Timothy B. Tyson, glossing Williams’s unpublished writings, argues that music was deployed to create “‘a new psychological concept of propaganda’ by combining ‘the type of music people could feel, that would motivate them.’” Williams envisioned “something similar to what is used in the churches—the ‘sanctified church,’ [where] there is a certain emotion that people reach.” See Cohen, Black Crusader, 207; Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 288.

31.

Cohen, Black Crusader, 207.

32.

Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 288.

33.

Ibid., 286.

34.

Ingrid T. Monson, Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 201.

35.

Monk’s views about music and politics are complex, as Ingrid Monson notes. “I haven’t done one of these ‘freedom’ suites and I don’t intend to. I mean, I don’t see the point. I’m not thinking that race thing now; it’s not on my mind. Everybody’s trying to get me to think it, though, but it doesn’t bother me.” (Monk interviewed by Val Wilmer, cited in Monson 205.) In the context of this essay, Monk’s views on the viability of nonviolence are also worth noting. After a fundraiser at Carnegie Hall for SNCC, which included Monk on the program, Freedom Singer Bernice Reagon recalls him saying that the strategy of nonviolence was “not going to work.” According to Reagon, “[Monk] was basically saying, ‘You are gonna get yourselves killed walkin’ out here in these streets in front of these crazy white people, your local crazy white people, who’ve got guns.’ He just shook his head at that. It felt like, ‘I will support, in any way, my people coming together and organizing, but you all are committing some kind of suicide, walking out here in front of these crazy white people’.” See ibid., 201.

36.

Foucault, Discourse and Truth, 40–46.

37.

Radio Free Dixie rebroadcast, Pacifica Radio Archives, BB4388.

38.

In his first address to the Louisiana legislature, Davis railed against “illegitimate children” and the immorality of pregnancy out of wedlock. To his racist mind there was no need to continue “the existing policy regarding public assistance to unwed mothers who have proved by their past conduct that they engage in the business of illegitimacy in the same way that a cattleman raises beef.” Speech delivered on May 16, 1960. See State of Louisiana, Official Journal of the Proceedings of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana, 48.

39.

Historical evidence supports Williams’s view. Robert F. Kennedy explained that in Birmingham “the people who've gotten out of hand are not the white people, but the Negroes by and large,” thus making intervention more palatable. See Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 438.

40.

Matthew Frye Jacobson, One Grain of Sand (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 4.

41.

The Crusader-in-Exile, vol. 4, no. 3 (September 1962), 6.

42.

McEnaney, Acoustic Properties, 148.

43.

Cited in Testimony of Robert F. Williams, 233. Baraka’s letter also contains a QSL report on Radio Free Dixie. “I manage to pick up Radio Free Dixie, it seems, when the wind is right.…Meanwhile, let me know when you get the records, then by that time I’ll probably be able to send more.”

44.

William’s letter to Fidel Castro lays out the financial challenges in great detail. See Letter to Fidel Castro, Papers of James E. Jackson and and Esther Cooper Jackson TAM 347, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University.

45.

Self-respect, self-defense and self-determination.

46.

Radio Free Dixie broadcasts, Robert F. Williams Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Box 15. SR-15-1.

47.

The recording used was originally released on Negro Sinful Songs (Musicraft Records, 1939). It differs from Leadbelly's performance of “The Bourgeois Blues” recorded for Alan Lomax, deposited at the Library of Congress, and reissued on Folkways Records. The Musicraft version was reissued many times, so it is difficult to determine which disc was used for broadcast.

48.

In an act of critical litotes, the liner notes to Broadside Ballads describe the song’s conclusion this way: “With these medals and 15 cents his mother can get a ride anytime on a New York subway train.” Liner notes to Pete Seeger, Broadside Ballads (Broadside Records, 1963), sound recording, Broadside 301.

49.

Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1996), 335.

50.

Radio Free Dixie broadcasts, Robert F. Williams Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, SR-8-1. Aired on May 28, 1965.

51.

Liner notes to Alan Lomax, Blues in the Mississippi Night (Rykodisc, 1990), sound recording, RCD 90155.

52.

Ibid.

53.

Lomax broadcast segments from the recordings as part of a three-part BBC radio program, “The Art of the Negro,” aired in 1951. Aside from the commercial release of Blues in the Mississippi Night, see “I Got the Blues,” Common Ground (Summer 1948): 38–52.

54.

The recording was re-released in the States by United Artists in 1959.

55.

Given the focus of this article, I can only flag, but not address, the ethical issues raised by Lomax’s publication of the recordings, which, as far as I can gather, did not involve the consent or remuneration of the musicians. For more on the ethical issues concerning Lomax’s work, see Mark Davidson, “The Problem of Alan Lomax, or the Necessity of Talking Politics During the Lomax Year,” https://soundstudiesblog.com/2015/04/09/the-problem-of-alan-lomax-or-the-necessity-of-talking-politics-during-the-lomax-year/.

56.

Mabel Williams’s comments echo phrases from Lomax’s liner notes to the Nixa release: “[Blues in the Mississippi Night] deals with the social conditions that existed in the South between 1890 and 1930 when the blues were formed,” and “The blues are songs which stand for the whole system of prejudice, exploitation, terror and rejection, which shaped the lives of Southern Negroes in the period between 1890 and 1940.” Alan Lomax, Blues in the Mississippi Night (London: Nixa, 1957).

57.

Liner notes to Blues in the Mississippi Night, 7.

58.

“When you are deprived of parrēsia, you are in the same situation as a slave.” But what is the slave to do, especially when living in conditions of slavery by other means? Given the nascent state of Foucault’s work on parrēsia there is more thinking to be done. Foucault, Discourse and Truth, 47.

59.

Radio Free Dixie broadcasts, Robert F. Williams Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, SR-21-1. Aired on January 21, 1966.

60.

“Hot Cha” and “Shotgun” were released together as a 45 rpm single by Soul Records in 1965. Since those are the only two tracks by Junior Walker played on the show, I cannot determine if the LP or the single was used for broadcast.

61.

The three songs by the Impressions were released as singles, but none were backed with any of the others. The only LP that has all three songs is a British release, Big Sixteen (His Master’s Voice, 1965). “Meeting Over Yonder”—along with “People Get Ready,” “Amen,” and “Woman’s Got Soul”—were all cut from the American version of Big Sixteen, retitled as Greatest Hits (ABC-Paramount, 1965). While both “Keep on Pushing” and “People Get Ready” were released as title tracks on eponymous LPs before 1965, “Meeting Over Yonder” did not appear on an American-issued LP until 1969. Based on the use of LPs in other broadcasts, I surmise that the Williamses were working with Big Sixteen. Williams must have received records from someone in England, or had access to British releases given that he and Mabel appear to have used the British release of Blues in the Mississippi Night.

62.

Ibid.

63.

Baraka, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones, 305. For more on the relationship of R&B to the jazz avant-garde see “The Changing Same” in Black Music (New York: Quill, 1967).

64.

Williams only found out about the switch when letters from listeners in the States began to complain about the poor reception and faint signal. See Cohen, Black Crusader, 284.

65.

Ibid. and Letter to Fidel Castro, Papers of James E. Jackson and and Esther Cooper Jackson TAM 347, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University.