News and Features

On MLK Day, Remembering James Brown's 1968 Trip to Dallas

On this holiday honoring Martin Luther King, KERA’s Rob Tranchin has a story from the summer following Dr. King’s assassination in 1968.  While in Dallas, James Brown performed his latest release. “Say It Loud!  I’m Black and I’m Proud” which would become important in the civil rights movement:

  • KERA Radio story:
  • Online version:

On Aug. 26, 1968, James Brown and his band took the stage at Dallas’ Memorial Auditorium, the last stop in a grueling two week swing through Texas.

Five months earlier, Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis, and Brown’s calls for peace in the wake of the violence that followed had established his influence beyond the world of entertainment.

REV. PETER JOHNSON: “He realized how important he was to Black America, and that when he spoke, Black America listened.”

Rev. Peter Johnson was a young organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the time and worked with both Dr. King and James Brown.

JOHNSON: “And if you go back and read or listen to James talking, you could see first how much he loved America, and how Dr. King’s assassination had challenged him to become more visible and more vocal, because Black youth listened to James Brown!”

What made the Dallas concert unusual was that Brown gave one of his first public performances of a song he had written just a few months earlier: “Say it Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

JAMES BROWN (from concert recording:  “You know, one way we’ve got of solving a lot of problems that we’ve got in this country, is letting a person feel that they’re important, feel that they’re somebody. And a man can’t get himself together until he know who he is and be proud of what and who he is and where he come from. Now the black and the white that’s in the audience, I want you to do this for me.  I want the black to sing this song, and at the end of the song where the black says, ‘I’m Black,’ I want everybody to say, ‘I’m proud!’  Alright?  A little love won’t hurt.”

“Say It Loud” had just hit the national airwaves, but the white-owned radio stations in Dallas were nervous about giving it much airplay.

JOHNSON: “When I first came here, I was literally shocked at the kind of control that the power structure had over the media here.  White people in certain parts of the country — Dallas is a good example — they was offended by the new emerging black militancy.  You could get arrested in Dallas for having an afro comb.  If you had a big afro pic, they could arrest you in Dallas for that.”

But on that hot summer night in August of 1968, thousands of people in Memorial Auditorium sang out loud “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”  Although Martin Luther King was gone, few among those who were there could have doubted that the struggle for civil rights would continue.

JOHNSON:  “Dr. King was just so smart. We had developed a chant, ‘I am somebody,’ that, you know, I may be poor, but I am somebody.  I’m proud of who I am.  Well, James’ ability to reach all of Black America with “Say It Loud” helped undergird what we were trying to do in developing and creating a sense of pride in our people.  And when James’ tune came out, it became the anthem of the Black Power movement.

Here’s a clip from the documentary The Night James Brown Saved Boston, which details an April 1968 concert Brown performed in the city: