Malvina Reynolds: Song Lyrics and Poems  

The Story of Old Monroe

Notes: words by Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger, to the tune "Poor Ellen Smith"; copyright 1962 by the authors. Broadside magazine reported that "The following ballad was written in April, 1962, at the request of the Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants. In spite of its length, the story seems to move fairly swiftly. The tune is an old Southern folk melody. Words are principally by Peter Seeger, with half a dozen verses by Malvina Reynolds, and the facts in the case supplied by a detailed account from John Lowry, aged 20, of New York, one of the Freedom Riders who volunteered to picket the courthouse at Monroe, and a few days later found himself facing a charge of kidnapping."

Gather 'round us you Americans,
If you believe in right and wrong.
The newspapers have ignored this;
I'll tell it in a song.

The papers and the TV
Never told the story straight,
So, listen now, I will to you
The honest facts relate.

Let me take you to a corner
Of this world that we call free.
It's Monroe, North Carolina,
Where the Klan rules by decree.

Maybe you thought the Klan was dead
And buried long ago.
Well, in August 1961
You should ha' been in old Monroe.

It's a town of about ten thousand,
And could be a pretty place.
But there's uncertainty and fear
To be seen on many a face.

A railroad slices through Monroe
It's not one town but two towns
On the right, Monroe is white
And on the left is Newtown.

Eighteen Freedom Riders came
In August '61.
At the call of young Rob Williams
To see what could be done.

Robert Williams was a leader,
A giant of a man.
He said, let's protect our families
From the violence of the Klan.

The Klansmen, they got busy;
They came from everywhere,
All armed with guns and pistols,
And Chief Mauney1 didn't care.

They staged a bloody riot
And the deck was surely stacked,
'Cause the only ones arrested
Were the ones who were attacked.

Hey, listen for the frame-up!
Did the Klan lay a plan?
To trap Williams and his friends
And make him flee the land?

A couple, by name of Stegall
Were driving in a car.
They drove right into Newtown;
That was a bit too far.

For Negroes live in Newtown,
And on that fatal day
They'd set their lines of self-defense
Against the K.K.K.

The Stegalls, they were frightened;
They stopped at Williams' door.
And Robert Williams told the crowd
To let the Stegalls go.

He said, come inside my house.
You'll get hurt if you stay here.
And Williams let the Stegalls
Inside his own house there.

And though this man had saved them,
Police got on his trail.
Nothing less than a kidnap charge:
Twenty years to life in jail.

And then the mighty F.B.I.
Joined in to help the Klan,
With vicious posters tacked up
In post offices through the land.

Saying Rob was armed and dangerous
And schizophrenic, too,
As though to shoot him down on sight
Would be the safest thing to do.

But Rob escaped to Canada,
And then to Mexico.
And now he stays in Cuba
Where the F.B.I. can't go.

And now a make believe trial
Comes in May of 62,
And we are wondering if in Monroe
That justice will come through.

Perhaps when it gets to the Supreme Court
They'll get a better shake.
But it's in the hearts of you and me,
The decision must be made.

For we all are just as guilty,
Till we make that day to come
When Robert Williams can return
To his Union County home.

So listen, Mr. President,
And listen Brother Bob:
If you'd defend the Free World,
Here is a little job.

If you don't believe the words I say,
Go see it for yourself.
Go down and visit old Monroe,
But be careful of your health.

There's lots of good people in Monroe,
But they are scared to say.
Go down to old Monroe, Bob.
Tell them: this is the U.S.A.

They say the German people
The crimes of Hitler never knew.
Well, let American people
See what fascists here can do.

For we've had enough of murder,
And we've had enough of lies,
And the Klu Klux Klan in old Monroe
Is due to be surprised.

For in Washington and 'round the world
We're being asked today,
Is Monroe, North Carolina,
In the good old U.S.A.?

Monroe! Monroe!
I hear those voices say:
Is Monroe, North Carolina,
In the good old U.S.A.?

Malvina Reynolds songbook(s) in which the music to this song appears:
---- [none]

Other place(s) where the music to this song appears:
---- Broadside No. 5 (May 1962)

Malvina Reynolds recording(s) on which this song is performed:
---- [none]

Additional note
1. pronounced "Mooney."

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