We Shall Overcome

From Academic Kids

We Shall Overcome is a protest song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement.

The song derives from a gospel song, possibly a 1903 song by Rev. Charles Tindley of Philadelphia containing the repeated line "I'll overcome some day", but more likely a later gospel song containing the line "Deep in my heart, I do believe / I'll overcome some day." In Charleston, South Carolina in 1946, striking employees the American Tobacco Company, mostly African American women were singing hymns on the picket line. A woman named Lucille Simmons sang a slow "long meter style" version of the song, as "We'll Overcome". Zilphia Horton, a white woman and one of the founders of the Highlander Folk School (later Highlander Research and Education Center) learned it from her. The next year she taught it to Pete Seeger. [Dunaway, 1990, 222-223], [Seeger, 1993, 32]

Seeger (or someone else, he himself isn't sure and writes that it may have been Highlander's Septima Clark) changed "We will overcome" to "We shall overcome"; Seeger added some verses ("We'll walk hand in hand", "The whole wide world around") and taught it to Californian singer Frank Hamilton, who taught it to Guy Carawan, who re-introduced it to Highlander in 1959. From there, it spread orally and became an anthem of southern African American labor union and civil rights activism. [Dunaway, 1990, 222-223], [Seeger, 1993, 32]

The song later found its way to South Africa in the later years of the anti-apartheid movement. [Dunaway, 1990, 243]

Copyright on the song is held by Seeger, Carawan and Hamilton. Seeger explained that he took out a defensive copyright on advice of his publisher to prevent someone else from doing so and "At that time we didn't know Lucille Simmons' name." [Seeger, 1993, 33] All royalties from the song go to the "We Shall Overcome" Fund, adminstered by Highlander and used to give small grants for cultural expression involving African Americans organizing in the U.S. South. [Highlander Reports, 2004, 3]

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day

  Oh, deep in my heart
  I do believe
  We shall overcome some day

We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand some day


We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free some day


We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid some day


We are not alone
We are not alone
We are not alone some day


The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around some day


We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day


External links

  • Susanne´s Folksong-Notizen (http://mysongbook.de/msb/songs/w/weshallo.html), excerpts from various articles, liner notes, etc. about "We Shall Overcome".


  • Dunaway, David, How Can I Keep from Singing: Pete Seeger, (orig. pub. 1981, reissued 1990). Da Capo, New York, ISBN 0306803991.
  • Seeger, Pete and Blood, Peter (Ed.), Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Singer's Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies (1993). Independent Publications Group, Sing Out Publications, ISBN 1881322017.
  • ___, "The We Shall Overcome Fund". Highlander Reports, newsletter of the Highlander Research and Education Center, August-November 2004, p.3.

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