A Change is Gonna Come
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The next few stanzas all describe different instances in which Sam Cooke felt great despair. But despite the anguish and the sadness, he ends each stanza optimistically - "it's been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come." First he describes his fear of dying because his faith in God has been severely tested. Then there is the incident in which he is told to leave the white part of town. Upon asking for assistance from his fellow man, he is only knocked back down. These descriptions have the effect of creating a pretty bleak mood and tone in this song. It is this sense of defeat that makes the song so haunting to listen to. All of these events lead the listener to believe that maybe Cooke's optimism has been pushed to the limits and that he will be forced to question the meaning of his life. But no - Cooke emphatically answers any doubts the listener may have had in the song's last stanza:
There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long _
But now I think I'm able to carry on _
It's been a long, a long time coming _
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
Despite all the pain and the heartache, Cooke will continue to carry on because he wholeheartedly believes that substantive change is just around the corner. It is this dichotomy that Cooke creates in the lyrics - sadness and defeat in the present versus hope and optimism for the future - that makes the songwriting so interesting here. It perfectly captures the conflicting emotions that many blacks felt during this period in American history. It is no wonder that this song served as an anthem for generations of Americans.