The Washington Post

Music of the Movement: Eyes on the Prize

“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” was sung during the worst of times, when segregation and its supporters had beat down bodies and optimism. It was adapted from the hymn, “Keep Your Hand on the Plow,” by civil rights activist Alice Wine in 1956. It became “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.”

Many of the leading inspirational singers gave the original a place in history, beginning with Mahilia Jackson and Duke Ellington at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

In the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the adaptive version was sung by Pete Seeger with the Freedom Singers of the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee at Carnegie Hall in 1963. Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples and Bruce Springsteen have also recorded the song.

The King Statue (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

This continues a survey of songs of the times, leading up to the dedication of the Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. memorial Sunday. The memorial is now open to the public but closes Thursday night to prepoare for the official unveiling.

The SNCC singers did a workshop on the song and its meaning in 2007.


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