Four months after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Godfather of Soul reclaimed blackness with unabashed pride. Though the Civil Rights Movement and the tireless teachings of Dr. King had furthered the power movement of African Americans, derogative statements about blackness remained.
Brown witnessed such derision as he saw people fighting in the streets of Los Angeles, and thought to himself, "We've lost our pride." Returning to his hotel room, he jot down on a napkin what would become the five-word anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement: "I'm black and I'm proud."
In his autobiography, Brown reflected, "It was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people. "People called 'Black and Proud' militant and angry - maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children's song."
He continued, "That's why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride... The song cost me a lot of my crossover audience. The racial makeup at my concerts was mostly black after that. I don't regret it, though, even if it was misunderstood."
Released in August 1968, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” became the crowning anthem of the civil rights movement. The single rallied to the top spot on the US R&B chart for a six-week reign and peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Aside from its commercial and chart success, the song held firm as a cornerstone to the changing tides within American society. As Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D recalled, "The sheer magnitude of 'Say It Loud' was an implanted, soundtracked theme into understanding that our minds, bodies, and souls were black and beautiful."