Nostalgic for Utopia

Anne Romaine’s Folk Music Protest in the New Left South

Front row: Bessie Jones, Jean Ritchie, Anne Romaine, Doc Watson, Rosalie Watson; back row: three unidentified people, and Mike Seeger at far right, ca. 1960s. Photo courtesy of the Mike Seeger Collection, PF-20009/110, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Nostalgic for Utopia

Anne Romaine’s Folk Music Protest in the New Left South

by Joseph M. Thompson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 24, No. 3: Music & Protest

“Romaine’s vision of the South’s radical past, present, and future did exist, if only for as long as each concert.”

Speaking in March of 1995, shortly before her death, Anne Romaine reflected on the folk music concerts to which she had devoted the past thirty years of her life. At fifty-three years old and with relatively little commercial success to show for her lifetime of effort, the white civil rights activist and musician still held faith in the power of music “to create unity, and to sharpen the spirit of courage.” In 1964, Romaine had joined the Southern Students Organizing Committee (SSOC), a white student group affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As an organizer, performer, and tour promoter in the SSOC, she drew on the folk music traditions of her native South. These tours, which began in 1966 and continued through the early 1970s, daringly presented an interracial cast of musicians who shared the stage at the same time on black and white college campuses throughout the South as the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, an organization Romaine maintained until 1993.

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