John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“A Change Is Gonna Come”

Sam Cooke’s timeless song could have been written in response to the killings in Charleston.

By - Jun 23rd, 2015 03:01 pm
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Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke

In the days since the brutal, premeditated hate crime in Charleston, there has been little said or done to give hope that these types of events will ever stop. We’re in a position once again where words fail just when they are needed most. The people who oppose giving guns to every nut job walking the street outnumber those who don’t. But the NRA seems beyond and above the average peace loving citizen. Change is out of reach — if there is no will to do so after little children are slaughtered, don’t look for someone to make it happen now. Congress once more won’t act and we will soon be sitting around waiting for the next one.

The mass murder in Charleston is especially cruel and sad. An obvious hate crime, it’s more accurately what reasonable people anywhere would have to call it — terrorism. The perpetrator seems to have ingested every coded message from elements of the far right and acted on their behalf. How many more proxies for hate are lurking out there, polishing their pistols and waiting?

Sam Cooke ended the same way the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney and eight others did in that historic church. Cooke had once been a man of God and had been a star in both gospel and pop. His life was ended by a gun, in a setting less hallowed, so we were denied a full lifetime of his spectacular talent. But before he left, he gave us a song that sums up the struggle of African/Americans and inspires in its painful beauty.

A Change Is Gonna Come has long been considered a masterpiece of the civil rights era. Its message is clear and speaks to an all-too- common experience in the black community. Cooke was inspired to write it after being turned away from a segregated hotel. The fact that he was one of the most famous and respected artists in the country meant little at the front desk.

His lyrics are personal, but expand easily into the universal. His faith that change is imminent seems sadly optimistic. A half century later the Confederate flag flies above the statehouse in South Carolina and nine of the best and brightest lay before their weeping families and friends, gunned down by a know-nothing kid with American darkness in his soul.

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will 

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, oh
There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

© Sam Cooke

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