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"Xenophobia/Racism"

July/August 2006 issue of Poverty & Race

This is in the “oldies but goodies” department: Back in the March/April 1994 P&R, we printed what follows. Given the rise of anti-immigration sentiment among Americans, reprinting it seems appropriate. While the original song was aimed at segregationist US Senator Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), feel free, in the best folk-song manner, to substitute current figures and make up some more up-to-date verses. (Transcription of the music notation, from The People’s Song Book, is courtesy of Jeremy Hartman, the eight-year-old referred to, now about to enter his senior year of college.) – CH

One of the privileges of editing a newsletter is being able to indulge in occasional whims: The other day my eight-year-old son asked me who Crispus Attucks was. In responding, it brought to mind a political song I knew as a kid, aimed at one of the notorious segregationists and race-haters, Mississippi’s US Senator (1935-1947) Theodore Bilbo. Remembering the words (by Bob and Adrienne Claiborne) perfectly after quite a number of decades, I sang it to him, commenting on its topicality, given the present nativist, anti-immigrant climate.

Chorus (to be sung after each verse): Listen, Mr. Bilbo, listen to me. I’ll give you a lesson in history. Listen while I tell you that the foreigners you hate are the very same people made America great.

In 1492, just to see what he could see, Columbus, an Italian, set out across the sea. Said, “Isabella, babe, the world is round, and the USA is just a-waiting to be found.”

In 1609, on a bright summer’s day, the Half Moon set anchor in New York Bay. Henry Hudson, a Dutchman*, took one look around, said, “Boy, this is gonna be one helluva town.”

When the King of England started pushing Yankees around, they had a little trouble up in Boston town. There was a brave Negro, Crispus Attucks was the man, was the first one to fall when the fighting began.

Colin Kelly was the pilot, flying down low. Levin pushed the button that let the bomb go. They sank The Haruna [a Japanese World War II battleship] to the bottom of the sea. It was foreigners like these that kept America free.

Now, Bilbo, you’re taking one hell of a chance, ‘cause your good friends, the DuPonts, came over from France. Another thing I’m sure will be news to you: The first Mr. Bilbo was a foreigner, too.

You don’t like Negroes, you don’t like Jews. If there’s anyone you do like, it sure is news. You don’t like Poles, Italians, Catholics too. Well, dead** or alive, bud, we don’t like you.


* Erratum: Wikipedia indicates Hudson was actually English, but captained ships for the Dutch East India Trading Company, which accounts for the misidentification.

** When Bilbo met his maker in 1947 (in office but with his seating challenged by Republicans for irregularities in his 1946 re-election due, among other things, to intimidation of Black voters), it struck many of us as poetic justice that this hate-monger died of mouth cancer.


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