Before he performed the number, he told the crowd that the "Little Rock Nine" introduced him to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. He went on to state, "It's a really important place for us because this is, to me, where civil rights started. "We would see what was going on and sympathize with the people going through those struggles, and it made me want to write a song that if it ever got back to the people going through those struggles, it might just help them a little."
Paul also met backstage with the two living members of the "Little Rock Nine" either before or after the concert. He tweeted, ""Incredible to meet two of the Little Rock Nine — pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration for 'Blackbird,"
|Paul with two ladies from the Little Rock Nine|
All of this is nice and very emotion filled, but while he was talking, I couldn't help but thing, "what---this can't be right..." That afternoon, before the concert, I went to the museum for the Little Rock Nine. I learned that that on September 4, 1957 nine African-American children between the age of 14-17 attempted to go to what had been an all-white school, Central High. They were stopped by the Arkansas National Guard, who had been called in by the governor of the state to stop the children from attending school. Three weeks later, in the middle of hate and death threats, the U.S. President called for the army to escort these brave students to school so that they could get an education that was equal to white students their own age. Not only does the city of Little Rock honor them with a museum, but also with a bronze statue on the grounds of the Capitol building.
|Little Rock Nine Statue. Photo by Sara Schmidt|
So what was Paul McCartney doing in September of 1957? The 15 year old McCartney was a student in Liverpool. Two month prior he had met John Lennon and agreed to join the Quarrymen. He was learning more about playing the guitar and starting to write a few tunes of his own. He was NOT writing the song "Blackbird" at that time. While there is no doubt that he saw the news about what was going on in Little Rock on the telly in England, as it was spread Internationally, he did not write a song to encourage those nine students during the time it was going on.
When did Paul write "Blackbird?" He might have written it during his time in India between February-March 1968 when he was in India. One story states that he was sitting with his acoustic guitar while in India and heard a blackbird singing and he began to write the song. This is the story Paul told in the early days. Another story states that he wrote it during the Spring of 1968 while on his farm in Scotland after hearing about all of the racial strife going on the the United States that Spring. This makes a lot of sense because Martin Luther King was murdered on April 4, 1968 and racial riots and turmoil was happening in the weeks that followed. This is the story Paul started to tell in 2002 after his book, Blackbird Singing, was released. Of course it isn't too far-fetched to believe that Paul started the song in India and it was simply about a blackbird and came back to it a few weeks later in Scotland after seeing the news from America and added more lyrics.
To throw a wrench into things, Angie McCartney, Paul's step-mother says that he wrote the song for her mother, Edie. Paul had gone to Angie and Jim's home, where Angie mother had been staying and she was elderly and not doing well. She had told Paul that she couldn't sleep and was listening to the birds singing in "the dead of night." Paul recorded "Blackbird" and said on one of the takes (that Angie claims to own) 'This is for Edie.' Again---this doesn't seem to contradict things too much for me. Maybe Edie did tell Paul about her sleeping problems and the birds singing while he was working on the song anyhow and he made a recording for her.
So if Paul wrote the song partially about a literal blackbird and partially about racial tension in the United States in 1968, then why did he tell us at the concert that it was about Little Rock? I found a quote from Barry Mile's authorized biography on Paul, "Many Years From Now" that might clear that up:
Those were the days of the civil rights movement, which all of us cared passionately about, so this was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.’ As is often the case with my things, a veiling took place so, rather than say ‘Black woman living in Little Rock’ and be very specific, she became a bird, became symbolic, so you could apply it to your particular problem.
So as you see, he specifically recalls thinking of the town of Little Rock as the place where a fictitious black woman lives. Most likely he recalls this particular town because it was one of the first news stories of Civil Rights that he personally remembered because of the story of the Little Rock Nine.
However---I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that Blackbird was "inspired by the Little Rock nine." Maybe indirectly inspired. But nonetheless---I think with most Beatles songs, it is difficult to pinpoint just one reason why it was written. Their songs are complex and weren't always written in one sitting.
By the way, do you know the first time Paul performed "Blackbird" to an audience? It was the day Linda moved into Cavendish. Paul opened up the window to his house and called out to the girls waiting outside of the gate, asking if they were still there. They were and he played to them, in the darkness "Blackbird" to see what they thought of it.