The song was written by Stax Records singer Luther Ingram and Stax house songwriter Mack Rice. Ingram, who was frustrated with the state of the world at the time, told Rice "black folk need to learn to respect themselves." Rice liked the comment so much that he built a funk groove around it, then gave the song to the Staples, who were also signed to Stax. Producer Al Bell teamed the group with the storied Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, musicians who laid down classic tracks for Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, and with engineer/musician Terry Manning for vocals, overdubs, and mixing, in Memphis. The horns were overdubbed by Manning after the vocals were recorded, and were played by The Memphis Horns. The confrontational song had resonance for a burgeoning self-empowerment movement for African-Americans during the post-civil-rights-movement 1970s, as well as women demanding more respect during those same years. The Staple Singers' long version featured Roebuck "Pops" Staples, nearly 57 at the time, on lead for more than two minutes.