Thursday, 14 August 2008

Behind the Songs: Ballad of William Worthy

"Well, it's of a bold reporter whose story I will tell
He went down to the Cuban land, the nearest place to hell
He'd been there many times before, but now the law does say
The only way to Cuba is with the CIA"
--Phil Ochs, "Ballad of William Worthy" (1963)

Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America

William Worthy stood trial in Miami, with both his professional career and his personal freedom in jeopardy. Worthy's individual plight triggered collective acts of defiance. Events surrounding his trial on charges of violating the McCarran Act inspired widespread support, including the satirical "Ballad of William Worthy" by the folk singer Phil Ochs. Worthy turned his legal troubles into a political struggle that embarrassed the attorney general and pushed black protest into uncharted waters. Failing to receive a change of venue despite pleas from his lawyers, he was found guilty of violating the McCarran Act. At a time when leading civil rights groups were at odds with one another over the movement's political direction, Worthy's case provided a rare moment of unity. It also helped open the Cold War's Pandora's box, hurling America's racial hypocrisy in the face of a government already anxious about its interests in the Third World. Convicted after a bench trial in August 1962, he offered no apologies. "Travel control is thought control and intellectual control. Free men, thinking men, concerned men want none of it."

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