Bettie Mae Fikes, SNCC Veteran & Member of the Freedom Singers, attends 2024 State of the Union Address

Freedom Singers
The Freedom Singers

Fikes is an American singer and civil rights advocate who was a Bloody Sunday Foot Soldier in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Known as “The Voice of Selma,” Fikes served as a member of Selma’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Singers. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Newport Jazz Festival, the Library of Congress, and was featured in the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Tolerance exhibition honoring women of the Civil Rights Movement. In 2023, Fikes joined President Biden to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. This year’s State of the Union Address falls on the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Read the White House Press Statement Here

MY SPIRIT SPEAKS IN SONGS AND MOANS.”

– BETTIE MAE FIKES

Bettie Mae Fikes, member of the Freedom Singers
Bettie Mae Fikes, member of the Freedom Singers

Freedom singing was a vital part of SNCC’s community organizing work. Often stemming from traditional church songs, freedom songs brought people together, gave them courage, encouraged them to participate, and helped them imagine and believe in change. As SNCC field secretary Sam Block explained, “I began to see the music itself as an important organizing tool, not only to bring [people] together but also as an organizational glue to hold them together.”

Bettie Mae Fikes, who would become known as the voice of the Selma Movement, was a teenager in Selma, Alabama in 1963 when she started going to SNCC meetings in the basement of First Baptist Church. She had come from a very religious family of deacons, preachers, and good gospel singers. “When we started singing freedom songs, we started singing things like ‘Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,’” Fikes explained. “That was part of the spiritual, gospel. We sang songs that were familiar with us.”

Watch Bettie Mae Fikes speak about the power of music. Read about her work on the SNCC Digital Gateway.