Bob Dylan is now a household name, due in no small part to his incedibly poignant protest songs from the ’60s. During that time America was rife with civil unrest and a cultural climate which demanded change. One moment which would establish Dylan as the poster boy for the counter-culture generation would be this epic performance of ‘Only A Pawn In Their Game’ at the 1963 March on Washington.
Rightfully overshadowed by the importance of the movement as well as leader of the civil rights movements Dr Martin Luther King’s now infamous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech Dylan’s own position within this march started a few years beforehand.
Having been undoubtedly influenced by the politics of Woody Guthrie, Dylan only really started to develop his own ideals and impression when he arrived in New York in 1961 and with the help of his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo. The daughter of union organisers, and a volunteer for the Congress of Racial Equality, Rotolo encouraged Dylan to perform at political rallies and write political songs. He responded in kind making ‘protest songs’ his preferred method of expression against the establishment.
The 21-year-old Dylan would find his niche and go on to write and record the seminal album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan which would catapult Bob into the role of civil rights posterboy. While songs like ‘Oxford Town’ offered the true grit of the movement (it was a track about the clashes over James Meredith’s right to attend the all-white university of Missippi), it was his take on ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ which would define his sound and become a civil rights anthem.
Among some other notable moments for Dylan within the movement, including rejecting a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show after producers wanted to yank his song choice because it was too inflamatory, and a now infamous performance at The Newport Folk Festival, one performance would cement Dylan as the anti-establishment political poet we all know.
On August 28th, while thousand upon thousands upon thousands of people, after marching on Washington, looked up to the microphone they saw a young white man with his guitar ready to join the march, the fight, the war with a simple but poignant song.
Introduced by actor Ossie Davis, Dylan performed ‘When the Ship Comes In,’ and ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game,’ we take a look at the latter below and try to think back to the struggles Dylan saw before him in the eyes of people unwilling to bend to the wills of the elite anymore.
Take a look below at a moment in history.