In 1952, when John Greenway visited Aunt Molly Jackson at Sacramento, California, she sang for him a poignant song modeled on the familiar hymn "Precious Memories." Molly placed the date of composition as 1935 and the "experience" as 1931. Greenway used "Dreadful Memories" in AMERICAN FOLKSONGS OF PROTEST and recorded it twice. Consequently, I was pleased and surprised to collect it from Sarah in 1963, for she generally eschewed her half-sister's material. Sarah told me that she composed the song in New York about 1938 and that Molly "learned it from her" when the Gunnings visited California during World War II. There is no question in my mind as to the veracity of Sarah's statement. Here it can be said that folksong students are in debt to the two sisters for this excellent example of variation within a single family tradition.
Archie Green, liner notes for "Sarah Ogan Gunning: A Girl of Constant Sorrow," Folk Legacy (1965)/Topic (1967).
Lyrics as reprinted in liner notes of "Come All You Coal Miners" (Rounder 4005, 1972).
Dreadful memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul.
How the workers and their children
Died from hunger and from cold.
Hungry fathers, wearied mothers,
Living in those dreadful shacks,
Little children cold and hungry
With no clothing on their backs.
Dreadful gun thugs and stool pigeons
Always flock around our door.
What's the crime that we've committed?
Nothing. only that we're poor.
Oh, those memories, how they haunt me
Make me want to organize
Makes me want to help the workers
Make them open up their eyes.
When I think of all the heartaches
And all the things that we've been through,
Then I wonder how much longer
And what a working man can do.
Really, friends, it doesn't matter
Whether you are black or white.
The only way you'll ever change things
Is to fight and fight and fight.
We will have to join the union,
They will help you find a way
How to get a better living
And for your work get better pay.