If you're reading this blog, you probably associate "God Bless America" with one of two things: The Flyers and their now-ancient history with the Stanley Cup, or getting woken up after a long night on the boadwalk in Wildwood. But west of the Exton Mall, they apparently associate the Irving Berlin/Kate Smith standard with rising conservatism dating back to the social unrest of the 1960s. But it wasn't always thus: Once, according to what sounds like an interesting new book, both the Right and the Left claimed "GBA" as their own:
The chameleon-like lyrics of “God Bless America” made it a powerful vehicle for a wide range of meanings during the 25 years after its debut. In its early years, the most common use of “God Bless America” within protest contexts served an anti-Communist message, likely drawing on the song’s invocation of religion and patriotism as a symbolic weapon against “Godless Communism.” A group of teenagers sang it to disrupt a Communist meeting in a downtown Milwaukee park in 1941, and in 1947 war veterans broke up a Communist party rally in Bridgeport by singing it. But “God Bless America” was also embraced as a protest song on the left during this period, sung by striking garment workers in Brooklyn in 1941, and by subway workers protesting a lockout in 1956. Civil rights activists also used the song frequently in the early 1960s. Within a two-day period in early summer 1963, young African-American students sang “God Bless America” at school segregation protests in Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La., hinting, perhaps, at a strategic, unified use of the song by the movement. After all, what could be threatening about schoolchildren, some as young as nine, peacefully singing that staple of elementary school music programs, declaring their love for God and country in support of their right to an equal education?
Because it's the 4th of July and what not, the good liberals at The Nation thought this a good time to re-run a piece on how a lot of America's patriotic pledges, songs, poems, etc., came from the political left, even from socialists and Communist sympathizers. One example it cites: