The History of Shreveport & Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’
Part of me still can't believe this story is true. Its just hard for me to fathom that not so long ago, Shreveport (and America as a whole really) was a place full of hate, racism and bigotry. While things may not be perfect now, at least the story I'm about to tell you is no longer common place.
The year was 1963. Sam Cooke was one of the hottest musical acts in the country. He was wealthy. He was successful. Unfortunately, despite of all that, he also happened to be black. And being black in 1963 was not a good thing, no matter how famous you were.
Sam was traveling through Shreveport while on tour. He and his tour mates needed a place to bed down for the night, so they stopped at the Holiday Inn. However, The Holiday Inn refused to let him and his crew stay for the night because of the color of his skin.
He just went off. And when he refused to leave, he became obstreperous to the point where his wife, Barbara, said, 'Sam, we'd better get out of here. They're going to kill you.' And he says, 'They're not gonna kill me; I'm Sam Cooke.' To which his wife said, 'No, to them you're just another ...' you know.
Cooke and his crew were arrested and jailed after checking into the "black motel" across town. Now this is where things turn particularly dark. Because according to tour mate Solomon Burke, he wasn't just arrested and jailed. According to Burke, they were humiliated and belittled (to put it mildly):
They took us to the fire station and made us take off our clothes. They said, ‘now get your microphones, boys, and start singing.’ They had us do the whole show. You should have seen me singing ‘Cry to Me.’ My lord, we did all our records. I did the background for Sam’s pop stuff, the ooh-doo-doos, and Sam did my background. and when we had finished, the guy told us, ‘get back in them stolen limousines, boys, and don’t ever bring your band to Shreveport again.’ We were happy to oblige.
Now, some people will dispute the validity of that portion of the story. Either way, one of the biggest stars on the planet was arrested in Shreveport for nothing other than being black.
But, as horrible of a story as this is, some beauty did come out of all the ugliness. Inspired by this incident and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," Cooke wrote and recorded one of the greatest songs of all time, "A Change is Gonna Come".
Shortly after the song was released, it was picked up and used by the Civil Rights Movement. And when I say picked up, I mean it became the theme song for the Civil Rights Movement. In more recent times, the song has become a universal message for hope and change for everyone who hears it. It has become the song for every movement.