The song ‘Glory’ by John Legend in collaboration with rapper Common for the soundtrack of the movie Selma is an inspirational song that is about the civil rights marches and the countless protests and sufferings of the Black people. It is an important song as it not only documents the history of the black people’s civil rights struggle but also makes an impact given the recent spate of police shootings against black men in the country. The song is powerful too as it makes a connection between the past and what is happening now.
The lyrics seamlessly connect the struggles of the past with that of the present. The song talks about Rosa Parks sitting in the bus, refusing to move and thus sparking off the largest civil rights protests and the current Fergusson protests against the killing of unarmed black men. “Resistance is us/ That's why Rosa sat on the bus/ That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up (Legend 17-19).” It then goes on to a more optimistic and hopeful future when it talks about Glory; a situation when the Blacks are no longer persecuted and are treated like equals. Glory is when they would have won the war against racism and would not be treated as less than equals. “One day when the glory comes/ It will be ours, it will be ours (23-24).”
What makes the song a powerful is the fact that there are actual historical references used in the lyrics. Be it from a not so distant past about the civil rights, about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King or the recent past like the Fergusson shootings, the lyrics takes instances from the violent and at the same time powerful black history.
“Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people's energy
Welcome to the story we call victory (46-47).”
The song is optimistic. Although it talks about the Black people being told to stay down and being shot, it is a song that asks everyone to get together and work towards a better future. it is not a call for vengeance but rather a welcome call to everyone, old and young alike to come together and see a day where there would not be any more racially motivated attacks. It is also a song that calls for the energy of the young and the wisdom of the old to come together and form a victory against the racism that is so prevalent today. “Selma's now for every man, woman and child, Even Jesus got his crown in front of a crowd (36-37).” The rights won by the civil rights, non-violent marches of the elders says the song is for everyone to enjoy. The reference to Jesus here is important as he too suffered for the multitude and won people a victory that would be spoken about for a long time.
The Lyricist assumes that the audience is well aware of what is happening to his people and how they had struggled for their rights in the past. The examples he gives to talk about the issue of racism and unwarranted violence against black people are credible and actual historical events that had happened and that had changed the history of the country. The seamless integration of the past, present and the future makes the song that much powerful in the eyes of the audience. Race is a thorny issue and the song when it asks for the people to come together to fight against it is not a call for violence but for peaceful protests for their rights. The examples given in the song also indicate a peaceful approach to the issue and also the hope for a better future for everyone.