“Have You Been to Jail for Justice?” is recognized as a classic American protest song recorded and performed by Peter, Paul, & Mary, and others. It is featured in three documentaries: This is What Democracy Looks Like, Isn’t This a Time: A Tribute to Harold Leventha, and Get Up/Stand Up: The History of Pop and Protest, a PBS documentary broadcast internationally featuring the greatest protest songs of all time.
Peter, Paul, & Mary recorded “Have You Been to Jail for Justice” on their In These Times CD and on Carry It On 5 CD box set. It was also a staple song of their live performances.
Have You Been to Jail for Justice?
Was it Cesar Chavez or Rosa Parks that day?
Some say Dr. King or Ghandi
Set them on their way
No matter who your mentors are
It’s pretty plain to see
That if you’ve been to jail for justice
You’re in good company
Peter Yarrow Tribute to Anne Feeney (2001)
“Have You Been to Jail for Justice” is characteristic of Anne’s work not only because of its advocacy, but because it conveys a joyful sense of humor. Like Anne, this song looks at the world with a spirit of community, the spirit of an organizer, people who write and sing from a sense of enjoying people and participating in the life around them even as they recognize the great inequities that we have.
Whenever Peter, Paul & Mary perform this song, people burst into applause and laughter at the end of the last verse: “So get courage from your convictions. Let them haul you off to jail!” It’s as if they’re marching in support of what the song says. The song evokes history and celebrates events we as Americans can be proud of in the context of our right-wing political climate — the elimination of child labor, extending the vote to women, the elimination of slavery. These changes could not have occurred without changes in the law and the acts of people who were willing to take a stand that involved going to jail for their ideals of justice.
This is truly a patriotic song. I say this with pride in our constitution and that America is a country that allows people to go to jail for justice. It takes a strong country to do this. The song appreciates the right of people to be a loyal opposition and to express their opposition in the context of civil disobedience. I believe that with this song Anne is extending this tradition and contributing to carrying forward this sense of what America stands for in the best sense, and the song expresses that for the audience. It’s an impassioned eloquent statement in the spirit both of laughter and heartfelt connection.” —Peter Yarrow (Pittsburgh Music History)