Walter Ray Watson

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


By the early 1960s, Nina Simone was well-known to the world as a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist. But around 1963, as race relations in America hit a boiling point, she made a sharp turn in her music — toward activism.

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET on Nov. 16

Shirley Chisholm's celebrated win on election night, Nov. 5, 1968, still resonates with today's election cycle, 50 years later. She became the first black woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the years, her victory is often cited as inspiration for women running for public office.

This election season has been nicknamed "The Year of the Woman" because a record number of women have run and won seats in national and statewide races.

Campaign gets little attention

Fifty years ago, photographer and folklorist Roland Freeman hitched his hopes to a humble caravan of mule-driven wagons. The Mule Train left the small town of Marks, in the Mississippi Delta, for Washington, D.C. It was part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last major effort to mobilize impoverished Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds.