Only A Pawn In Their Game


In anticipation of a six-part series on The Summer of Love, I’ve been visiting the sources of inspiration behind the explosion of ideas that characterized 1967 in San Francisco. Some of the most profound signposts on the road to the city by the bay can be found in the lyrics of Bob Dylan. A person could get depressed if he was to dwell on how relevant the lyrics to “Only A Pawn In Their Game” are in the age of Trump. 

Medgar Evers was a civil rights activist murdered by a white supremacist on June 12, 1963. Two all-white juries failed to convict his murderer. At least we convict our Dylann Roofs now but the Neanderthal mindset of mass incarceration of blacks and confederate battle flags are alive and well in 2017. What other than white supremacist and misogynist sympathies can explain the election of Donald Trump to the presidency?

Civil rights activist Bernice Johnson said “Only A Pawn In Their Game” was the first song that showed poor whites were victimized by discrimination just as poor blacks were. It takes a great mind to see the bigger picture and on his third album, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” from 1964, Dylan set off a lyrical detonation whose reverberations can still be felt.

Here’s Bob Dylan performing the song in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as the opening act for Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech:

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
’Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ’neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

 Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game

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