Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Gospel Song "I'll Overcome Someday" & The Civil Rights Song "We Shall Overcome"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is part of an ongoing series on songs that were composed by African American composer Charles Albert Tindley. Examples of the song "I'll Overcome Someday" (also known as "I Shall Overcome Someday") are showcased in this post. Information about Charles Albert Tindley & information about and examples of the song "We Shall Overcome" is also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, religious, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.


"Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley (July 7, 1851 – July 26, 1933) was an American Methodist minister and gospel music composer.

Often referred to as "The Prince of Preachers", he educated himself, became a minister and founded one of the largest Methodist congregations serving the African-American community on the East Coast of the United States.

Tindley's father was a slave, but his mother was free. Tindley himself was thus considered to be free, but even so he grew up among slaves. After the Civil War, he moved to Philadelphia...

Tindley published his songs beginning in 1901, and published several hymn collections, including Soul Echoes in 1905 (enlarged edition "No. 2", 1909) and a series beginning with New Songs Of Paradise! in 1916.[10] A posthumous New Songs of Paradise, No. 6 in 1941 was the first collection to bring together all 46 of Tindley's published hymns, though in some cases stanzas that had previously been published were left out. Beams of Heaven: Hymns of Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933) (2006) restores the full original complement of verses.[11]"

"[Charles Albert] Tindley is known as one of the “founding fathers of American Gospel music.” The son of slaves, he taught himself to read and write at age 17. He was a driven young man, working as a janitor while attending night school, and earning his divinity degree through a correspondence course. In 1902, he became pastor of the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the church where he had earlier been the janitor. At the time of Tindley’s death, his church had 12,500 members....
That page includes a partial listing of hymns composed by Charles Albert Tindley.

The religious songs that were composed by Charles Albert Tindley are usually referred to as "Gospel", "early Gospel", and "hymns".

Although I've seen the song "I'll Overcome Someday" referred to as a "spiritual", that categorization is misleading if not inaccurate since in the United States "spirituals" usually refer to religious songs that were composed by unknown Black people prior to the end of United States slavery. Furthermore, those songs usually have a call & response pattern which is not the structure that Charles A. Tindley used for his compositions.

"'We Shall Overcome' is a protest song that became a key anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968). The title and structure of the song are derived from an early gospel song, "I'll Overcome Someday", by African-American composer Charles Albert Tindley. The song was published in 1947 as "We Will Overcome" in the People's Songs Bulletin (a publication of People's Songs, an organization of which Pete Seeger was the director and guiding spirit). It appeared in the bulletin as a contribution of and with an introduction by Zilphia Horton, then music director of the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, Tennessee, an adult education school that trained union organizers. It was her favorite song and she taught it to countless others, including Pete Seeger,[1] who included it in his repertoire, as did many other activist singers, such as Frank Hamilton and Joe Glazer, who recorded it in 1950.

The song became associated with the Civil Rights movement from 1959, when Guy Carawan stepped in as song leader at Highlander, which was then focused on non-violent civil rights activism. It quickly became the movement's unofficial anthem. Seeger and other famous folksingers in the early 1960s, such as Joan Baez, sang the song at rallies, folk festivals, and concerts in the North and helped make it widely known. Since its rise to prominence, the song, and songs based on it, have been used in a variety of protests worldwide."...
Click for a sound file of the song "If My Jesus Wills" which was composed by Louise Shropshire in 1942 and copyrighted in 1954. That song is also part of the development of the song "We Shall Overcome" in the 1960s.

As per a commenter on that sound file's comment thread:
Joop Jansen, 2013
"If I may say so. The lyrics of Louise's version are derived from Charles Albert Tindley's "I'll Overcome Some Day" published in 1900 in the book "New Songs of the Gospel" (song # 27) And the tune of Louise's version is not the same as the well-known version of "We Shall Overcome". Joe Glazer recorded "We WIIL Overcome" in 1950, and that's a version that is a clear precursor of "We Shall Overcome"..."

A version of the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome" can be found at


I'll Overcome Someday

Hymnchoir, Uploaded on Nov 5, 2008

This is the original version out of which grew "We Shall Overcome". Recorded by KB at St Paul Baptist Ch in Lowrys, SC

(These examples are presented in chronological order based on their posting date, with the oldest dated examples posted first.)

Example #1: MAHALIA JACKSON Live late 1960's We shall overcome

elfeco, Uploaded on Feb 25, 2007

We shall overcome--very moving she gets totally saturated with the song, even at the end as she walks from the mic the power of her voice is still overwhelming. This song was a staple of the civil rights movement, Mahalia worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King. She also sang Precious Lord at his funeral in 1968

Example #2: We Shall Overcome

myfootage005Uploaded on Oct 20, 2008

Group of protestors/supporters singing "We Shall Overcome," with audio.
Editor: The narrator's comments in this video about "deluded people" almost caused me to not showcase this video. However, I included it to show the United States civil rights movement's custom of crossing arms & holding hands with the person standing on either side of you while singing the song "We Shall Overcome". That pattern of holding hands in a linked chain-like pattern symbolized and reinforced the strong connection that the singers felt for each other.

Singing "We Shall Overcome" holding hands that way and reflecting on the history of the civil rights movement can be quite emotionally moving.

Example #3: Morehouse College - We Shall Overcome

Kortland Whalum,Uploaded on Jun 26, 2009

The Morehouse College Glee Club performs "We Shall Overcome" [arranged by Wendell P. Whalum] @ the 2009 Candle on the Bluff Awards.

Example #4: We Shall Overcome in Madison

Emily Grams, Uploaded on Feb 19, 2011

This is what is actually happening in Madison!
This video documents that the song "We Shall Overcome" is still sung in the 21st century.

This particular protest was about the Govenor of Wisconsin's plans to weaken most public-sector unions by sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights and other such plans. Click for more information about those protests.

Notice in that video that one person called out the first line of each verse and the group then joined in singing that particular verse. This manner of singing reflects the improvisational characteristic of Civil Rights song, meaning that all of the lyrics aren't fixed. Some of those songs' verses can be made up "on the spot" and the order of most of those verses isn't fixed. That also means that the length of Civil Rights songs is also not fixed.

There are a number of Gospel songs with the title "I'll Be Alright". Click for a sound file of that song sung by The Angelic Gospel Singers (1955) which includes the verse "I'll overcome someday".

Click for a post of the
1930 Blues song "I'll Overcome Someday" by Mississippi Bracy. That song probably was at least partly inspired by the 1900 song "I Shall Overcome Someday".

Click for a post about the Tindley hymn "Beams Of Heaven".

Thanks to Rev. Charles Albert Tindley for his musical legacy. Thanks also to all those involved in the Highlander Folk School as well as those who were involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and today's social justice movement. Thanks also to all those who are featured in these videos, the publishers of these videos, and those who I quoted in this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Thank you for pancocojams it is a great resource! Another melodic precursor to "We shall Overcome" is the negro spiritual "No more auction block for me". Here is John Legend performing it ""

    1. Thanks for sharing that link, alternit. Here's the hyperlink:
      " for John Legend performing "No More Auction Block For Me".

      By the way: Given the historical and present day negative connotations of using a lower case "n" for the word "Negro" when the first letter for referents for other racial/ethnic groups is capitalized, I believe that contemporary writers should use an upper case "N" for "Negro".

      Also, I prefer to use the contemporary referent "African American Spirituals" to refer to the category of religious music that previously was known as "Negro Spirituals".