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Monday, November 9, 2015

"We Shall Overcome" (information, lyrics, videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents historical information about the song "We Shall Overcome" and features six video examples of that song. One news article with a photograph of United States representatives of Congress singing "We Shall Overcome" is also featured in this post along with standard lyrics for that song.

"We Shall Overcome" not only represents the 1960s United States civil rights movement, but, judging from internet articles and videos, "We Shall Overcome" may be the only song from the civil rights movement that is still sometimes sung nowadays during protests and/or during community vigils that are held because of racial tragedies.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, inspirational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who composed and popularized "We Shall Overcome" as a song sung during protests and otherwise. Thanks to all those who are featured in videos that are included in this post and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

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THE HISTORY OF THE PROTEST SONG "WE SHALL OVERCOME"
From http://www.npr.org/2013/08/28/216482943/the-inspiring-force-of-we-shall-overcome The Inspiring Force Of 'We Shall Overcome' August 28, 2013 6:19 PM ET
"It is not a marching song. It is not necessarily defiant. It is a promise: "We shall overcome someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe."

It has been a civil rights song for 50 years now, heard not just in the U.S. but in North Korea, in Beirut, in Tiananmen Square, in South Africa's Soweto Township. But "We Shall Overcome" began as a folk song, a work song. Slaves in the fields would sing, 'I'll be all right someday.' It became known in the churches. A Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a version in 1901: "I'll Overcome Someday."

The first political use came in 1945 in Charleston, S.C. There was a strike against the American Tobacco Co. The workers wanted a raise; they were making 45 cents an hour. They marched and sang together on the picket line, "We will overcome, and we will win our rights someday."

In 1947, two of the union members from South Carolina traveled to the town of Monteagle, Tenn., for a workshop at the Highlander Folk Center. Blacks and whites had been meeting together about labor issues at the Highlander for many years. It was believed at Highlander that the people who have the problems are the ones who have the answers. It was important to talk together, and especially to sing. The tobacco workers brought their song to Tennessee, and Zilphia Horton, Highlander's music director, started using it in workshops in Tennessee and beyond.
In 1947, Horton went to New York City as she did every year, to raise money for Highlander. She sang the song there for Pete Seeger, who adopted it and added his own touches...

[Pete Seeger speaking]
I remember teaching it to a gang in Carnegie Hall that year, and the following year I put it in a little music magazine called People's Songs," Seeger adds. "Over the years, I remember singing it two different ways. I'm usually credited with changing ['Will'] to 'Shall,' but there was a black woman who taught at Highlander Center, a wonderful person named Septima Clark. And she always liked shall, too, I'm told."

"Electrifying Feeling"

In Southern California in the early 1950s, the song reached Guy Carawan. He was finishing graduate work in sociology at UCLA and doing some singing himself. He also learned about the Highlander Center in Tennessee, and that's where he ended up. Candi Carawan and her husband have been teaching together at Highlander for many years now. They met as the center's focus was shifting to civil rights, and "We Shall Overcome" was about to become an inspiring force."...

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From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-FmQEFFFko
Pete Seeger talks about the history of "We Shall Overcome" (2006) folkarchivist, Uploaded on Dec 29, 2010

Pete Seeger, in a conversation with Tim Robbins for Pacifica Radio, talks about the history of the song "We Shall Overcome" (2006)
[my partial transcription]..."We Shall Overcome", most of us thought that it had been put together in 1946 because that's when the slow version was made up, sung by tobacco workers. And a Black tobacco worker by the name of Lucille Simmons, would come out to the picket line and it was winter time. They probably had a fire in a big fifty five gallon drum, and they'd say "Oh, here comes Lucille. Now we'll hear that song sung slower than anybody sang it before...[Seeger sings a line and says] No rhythm. It's call 'long meter style.' And later on figured to give it that slow tempo. [Seeger sings the line and says] "so called twelve eight time"]
-snip-
Seeger continues by sharing that four years ago [2006] he learned that "We Shall Overcome" could actually be traced much earlier to striking Black union workers and White union workers in Alabama in 1909. The letter that was quoted in a book published by the University of Pennsylvania indicated that the union workers indicated that they started every meeting with a prayer and singing "that good old song "We Will Overcome"...
-snip-
Here's a comment from that video's discussion thread:
Isaias Gamboa, 2015
"We now live in the age of information. Empirical research has uncovered and proven the following facts:

Sometime between 1932 and 1942, an African American woman named, Louise Shropshire composed and published a sacred hymn entitled, "If My Jesus Wills". Her lyrics:

"I'll Overcome, I'll Overcome, I'll Overcome Someday
If My Jesus Wills, I Do Believe, I'll Overcome Someday".

Sound familiar?

"If My Jesus Wills" was performed all over the country during the 1950's and 60's including the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. It was copyrighted in 1954--six years before "We Shall Overcome". We Shall Overcome was copyrighted as a derivative work with no original author listed.

As a copyright claimant, Pete Seeger's "story" of the song's origin must be considered objectively.

in 2012, after studding Louise Shropshire's hymn in detail, Pete Seeger admitted (on film) that it's very probable that Louise Shropshire's hymn was the song from which We Shall Overcome was derived. What more is there to speculate on?

More facts:

Filmed interviews and photographic evidence confirm that since 1951 and until his assassination in 1968, Louise Shropshire was a close friend and mentor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was very familiar with Mrs. Shropshire's, "If My Jesus Wills" long before Pete Seeger sang We Shall Overcome for him.

Could her song and her affiliation with Dr. King have all been a mere coincidence? Of course not?

Its 2015. We need to wake up and share all the facts. Let the world decide what to believe."
-snip-
Given Pete Seeger's information about "We Will Overcome" being sung by protesting Alabama mine workers in the early 1900s, Louise Shropshire's 1932-1942 song "If My Jesus Wills" couldn't be the original source for the "We will overcome" line. The earliest known source for that line remains Rev. Albert Tindley's 1901 song "I'll Overcome Someday.

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EDITORIAL COMMENT
In 2013 I published a pancocojams post on the Gospel song "I'll Overcome Someday" and the Civil Rights song "We Shall Overcome" Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-gospel-song-i-will-overcome-someday.html.

Unlike that previous post, most of the videos in this post feature examples of "We Shall Overcome" in which the singers either lock arms and sway from side to side while singing this song, or hold hands and stand still or sway from side to side while singing this song. This has become the signature way that "We Shall Overcome" is sung. To my knowledge, no other protest song or civil rights song has this or any other signature movement style.

It's possible that the locked arm style of singing "We Shall Overcome" came from the verse "We'll walk hand in hand". Or that locked arm style may be a way of expressing the unity that the people feel when they are singing this song. Locking arms also shows the resolve of the protestors. Such a stance would also have made it more difficult for the police to arrest individuals, although the police would have eventually succeeded in separating people from those they had locked arms with.

I'm interested in reading your views about why (and when) this custom started and continues of singing "We Shall Overcome"
this way.

I decided to publish this post after reading that the University of Missouri Black students (and their allies) who are protesting racial conditions at the university sang "We Shall Overcome" as part of their celebration after learning that their protests led to the resignation of that University's president. (November 9, 2015). I haven't found a stand alone video of the students singing that song yet. However, the Addendum to this post includes a video of University of Missouri protestors singing "We Shall Overcome".

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LYRICS - WE SHALL OVERCOME*

1.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome someday.
(Oh-oh) deep in my heart
I do believe.
We shall overcome some day.

2.
We are not afraid.
We are not afraid.
We are not afraid today.
(Oh-oh) deep in my heart
I do believe.
We shall overcome some day.

3.
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand today.
(Oh-oh) deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day.

4.
We will all be free.
We will all be free
We will all be free someday.
(Oh-oh) deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day.

[End with the first verse.]

*These are the standard lyrics for "We Shall Overcome" that I learned during the United States civil rights movement in the 1960s. Judging from YouTube videos that I've watched in 2013-2015, verses 1, 2, and 3 appear to be the verses that are most often sung now. Another frequently sung verse was:
Black and White together
Black and White together
Black and White together today
(Oh-oh) deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day.

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SHOWCASE VIDEO EXAMPLES
These examples are given in chronological order according to their publishing dates on YouTube with the oldest dated example given first.

Example #1: [President Barack] Obama at Ebenezer - We Shall Overcome



Stand with Obama, Uploaded on Jan 20, 2008

This is the conclusion of Obama's speech at the church on Martin Luther King on King's Birthday in 2008, when the congregation sings "We Shall Overcome."
-snip-
Ebenezer Baptist Church is in Atlanta, Georgia.

All those in attendance sing “We shall overcome” with locked arms.

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Example #2: We Shall Overcome in Madison



Emily Grams, Uploaded on Feb 19, 2011

This is what is actually happening in Madison!
-snip-
This was during protest demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin. The singers are swaying from side to side.

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Example #3: Firefighters and crowd sing "We Shall Overcome" - Feb. 1th 2011, Madison Wisconsin Capitol Protest



Hinckley Video Productions Uploaded on Feb 18, 2011
-snip-
I'm not sure about what they are chanting (in unison). It may be “[name] must go”.
"We Shall Overcome" begins at 1:18 in this video. Someone sings the first line of the verse (or begins that first line) and all others join in.

Verse #1: We will overcome...
Verse #2: We’ll walk hand in hand...
Verse #3: We are not afraid...
Verse #4: We Will overcome...

-snip-
I noticed a few people in the video swaying from side to side, but most people are standing without moving. Also, I didn't see anyone linking arms while singing.

Everyone in the video appears to be White. Here's one comment exchange from that video's discussion thread:
Bob Javis, 2012
"Song is completely inappropriate for a budget protest."

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Hinckley Video Productions, 2012
in reply to Bob Javis
"@JMB177 Also, you may only be familiar with this song in a civil rights context, but its just as deeply rooted in the labor movement, just do a simple search on the song."

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Example #4: March on Washington - 50 Years Ago



Wazee Digital, Published on Aug 28, 2013

Civil Rights March 1963. We shall overcome. March at Washington Monument. National Mall protests. Civil rights leaders. Civil rights activists. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking.
-snip-
Protestors march while singing this song.

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Example #5: Watch Flint community sing 'We Shall Overcome' during prayer vigil



MLive.com Staff, Published on Jun 19, 2015

The Quinn Chapel AME Church in Flint held a prayer vigil Friday, June 19, to remember the victims of a shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church.
-snip-
Singers hold hands with people standing on each side of them. Singers also sway side to side a little while singing "We Shall Overcome".

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Example #6: 'We Shall Overcome' rings out at Charleston vigil



AFP news agency ,Published on Jun 20, 2015

The solemn verses of "We Shall Overcome" rings out in a college basketball arena at a vigil for the nine victims of a massacre at a historic African-American church.
-snip-
This is an integrated group of people. Everyone locks arms with the people next to them and sways from side to side while singing "We Shall Overcome".

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ARTICLE PHOTOGRAPH
http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/lawmakers-hold-hands-and-sing-during-medal-ceremony
Lawmakers lock arms as they sing 'We Shall Overcome' during a ceremony to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, on Capitol Hill,

June 24, 2014. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty
"Lawmakers hold hands and sing during medal ceremony"

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ADDENDUM: University Of Missouri Students
From http://www.bustle.com/articles/122570-videos-of-university-of-missouri-students-celebrating-tim-wolfes-resignation-are-a-powerful-look-at-an
Celia Darrough 11/9/2015
...”Moments later [after the news that the University of Missouri President resigned], music blared, students danced, sang, and chanted phrases like "You can't stop the revolution," and "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."

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Lauren Petterson ‎@laurenamandaaa
[video]
#concernedstudent1950 is singing and dancing to music from a loud speaker @mutv23

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12:42 PM - 9 Nov 2015
KCOU News ‎@kcounews
[video]
#ConcernedStudent1950 Allies and MSA president Payton Head lock arms and sing we shall overcome *
11:39 AM - 9 Nov 2015
-snip-
*Italics added by me to highlight that the students locked arms while singing "We Shall Overcome".

ConcernedStudent1950 = the group of Black Mizzou [University of Missouri] students which led the protest against racism at that university...1950 was the year that the first Black student was admitted to the University of Missouri

MSA = Missouri Student Association
[correction 11/11/2015] I previously gave this as "Minority Student Association"

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1 comment:

  1. For the historical record, it seems important to me to document that the University of Missouri activists sung "We Shall Overcome" during their celebration of the resignations of that university's president & chancellor. I note this because my sense is that nowadays Black activists/protestors don't usually sing that song or any other "freedom songs".

    Here's a quote on that subject from a discussion thread that I started in 2007 on the mudcat folk music forum: http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=104999

    Subject: RE: African American Protest Slogans & Songs
    From: Azizi
    Date: 23 Sep 07 - 11:34 PM
    "In the more than 20 articles and slide show/videos that I've read about the Sept. 21, 2007 march in Jena, Louisiana and other marches throughout the USA in support of that main demonstration, there was no mention of protest songs or freedom songs.

    Is singing no longer a part of African American protest marches?

    **
    Subject: RE: African American Protest Slogans & Songs
    From: Azizi
    Date: 24 Sep 07 - 12:17 AM

    "Let me reprhase that queation, is singing no longer a part of protest marches that are composed of mostly African American people?

    I've made this change in phrasing since some non-African Americans took part in the Jena 6 march in Jena Louisiana and elsewhere.

    However, reports I read and the photos/video confirm that the overwhelming majority of the people who participated in the Jena Louisiana march were Black people.

    And, it seems to me, that the use of adapted spirituals during the 1960s civil rights movement was a result of Black cultural traditions. Therefore, my question is have those traditions changed with regard to protest marching?

    Nowadays, is chanting still "in", but singing too old school?"

    ReplyDelete