We Shall Overcome
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We Shall Overcome is a protest song that became a key anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968). It is widely believed that 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 (1851–1933) although the musical and lyrical structure of Tindley's hymn is in fact substantially different from that of We Shall Overcome. In addition, there is no mention whatsoever of Tindley in either the 1960 and 1963 copyrights of We Shall Overcome". The song "We Will Overcome" was published in the September 1948 issue of 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. In it, she wrote that she'd learned the song from members of the CIO Food and Tobacco Workers Union: "It was first sung in Charleston, S.C. ... Its strong emotional appeal and simple dignity never fails to hit people. It sort of stops them cold silent."  It was her favorite song and she taught it to countless others, including Pete Seeger, 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.
Origins as gospel, folk, and labor song
In a 2006 interview with Beliefnet.com interviewer, Wendy Schuman; Pete Seeger responded to the following question regarding the origin of "We Shall Overcome":
- Wendy Schuman: "What's the origin of 'We Shall Overcome', the hymn of the civil rights movement, which you popularized?"
- Pete Seeger: "Nobody knows exactly who wrote the original. The original was faster." [Sings] "I'll be alright, I'll be alright, I'll be alright, someday ... deep in my heart I do not weep, I'll be alright someday." Or "deep in my heart I do believe." And other verses are "I'll wear the crown, I'll wear the crown," and "I'll be like Him, I'll be like Him" or "I'll overcome, I'll overcome".
Some have theorized that "We Shall Overcome" was inspired by the song "I'll Overcome Someday", copyrighted in 1901 by Rev. Charles Albert Tindley. Recent empirical evidence, however, strongly suggests that the actual source was a gospel hymn entitled "If My Jesus Wills", composed during the early 1930s, published in 1942 and copyrighted in 1954 by an African American Baptist choir director named Louise Shropshire. The book, We Shall Overcome: Sacred Song on the Devil's Tongue, written by Isaias Gamboa, reveals evidence of Louise Shropshire's authorship. In addition, the book reveals Shropshire's role as a close friend, civil rights ally and spiritual confidant of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.
- I'll Overcome, I'll Overcome, I'll Overcome Someday
- If My Jesus Wills, I Do Believe, I'll Overcome Someday
Guy Carawan, who introduced "We Shall Overcome" to several student groups, wrote in 2010 that "the old words were ... I'll Overcome someday, I'll be all right / I'll wear the cross, I'll Wear the Crown / I'll be like him, I'll Sing My Song Someday".
Zilphia Horton gave the original lyrics as "We will overcome, we will overcome someday. Oh, down in my heart, I do believe, we'll overcome someday. Subsequent verses, added by students at the Highlander School, began, "The Lord will see us through" and "On to victory".
Louise Shropshire's hymn, "If my Jesus Wills", features the additional verses, "Gonna get my crown someday" and "Gonna sing a new song someday", in addition to "I do believe".
In a 2012 interview, Pete Seeger stated: "It's very probable" that Louise Shropshire taught "If my Jesus Wills" to Zilphia Horton, the woman who allegedly taught it to him. Seeger concluded that Louise Shropshire "should be added to the [We Shall Overcome] story"
Suggestions that Rev. Charles Albert Tindley's "I'll Overcome Someday" may have been the inspiration for "We Shall Overcome" have been dismissed by many scholars, as Tindley's song bears virtually no recognizable musical resemblance to "We Shall Overcome", having been written in a radically different time signature and pentatonic scale. Although there are lyrical similarities, the lyric rhyme scheme to "I'll Overcome Someday" is also radically different from that of "We Shall Overcome". Following an extensive forensic analysis of the two songs, renowned Ethnomusicologist Dr. Portia Maultsby concluded that "It is perhaps the lyrics that hold the key to the creation of 'We Shall Overcome'," adding: "the lyric rhyme scheme of "If my Jesus Wills" and "We Shall Overcome" are identical and the lyric patterns of the songs are similar. In addition, it is possible to superimpose convincingly the "We Shall Overcome" melody in diminution over the first eight measures of the harmonic progression of "If my Jesus Wills".
In 2012, while looking to secure usage rights to "We Shall Overcome" for the film The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels and starring Academy Award winners Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, and Cuba Gooding Jr., film producer, Simone Sheffield discovered Isaias Gamboa's book, We Shall Overcome; Sacred Song on the Devil's Tongue. Upon reading that Pete Seeger and the other claimants of the freedom song were not in fact the original authors of "We Shall Overcome", Sheffield contacted Gamboa, who then contacted Robert Anthony Goins Shropshire, the grandson of Louise Shropshire. Sheffield then commissioned a musicological report and involved the NAACP in the effort to seek recognition for Louise Shropshire's role in the history and creation of "We Shall Overcome".
On September 11, 2013, following review and analysis of evidence, testimony and documentation, the Cincinnati, Ohio City Council unanimously passed a symbolic resolution affirming Louise Shropshire's "If My Jesus Wills" as the source from which "We Shall Overcome" was derived.
"I'll Overcome Someday" was a hymn or gospel music composition by the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley of Philadelphia that appeared together with seven other songs in a hymnal published in 1901. A noted minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Tindley was the author of forty-five influential gospel hymns, of which "We'll Understand It By and By" and "Stand By Me" are among the best known. The published text bore the epigraph, "Ye shall overcome if ye faint not", derived from Galatians 6:9: "And let us not be weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." It read:
The world is one great battlefield
With forces all arrayed.
If in my heart I do not yield,
I'll overcome some day.
Tindley's songs were written in an idiom rooted in African American folk traditions, using pentatonic intervals, with ample space allowed for improvised interpolation, the addition of "blue" thirds and sevenths, and frequently featuring short refrains in which the congregation could join. Tindley's importance, however, was primarily as a lyricist and poet whose words spoke directly to the feelings of his audiences, many of whom had been freed from slavery only thirty-six years before he first published his songs, and who were often impoverished, illiterate, and newly arrived in the North. "Even today," wrote musicologist Horace Boyer in 1983, "ministers quote his texts in the midst of their sermons as if they were poems, as indeed they are."
After its first success, the popularity of "I'll Overcome" waned for a time in the gospel world. However, a letter printed on the front page of the February 1909 United Mine Workers Journal states that "Last year at a strike, we opened every meeting with a prayer, and singing that good old song, 'We Will Overcome'." Whether this refers to Tindley's 1902 gospel song cannot be determined, since the lyrics and tune have not come down to us. The mention is significant, however, since this is the first mention of the song' being sung in a secular context and mixed race setting. It is also (if the quotation is accurate) the first instance of the use of the first person plural pronoun "we" of a movement song instead of the singular "I" usual in the gospel and spiritual tradition. It seems reasonable to suppose that this more militant version, or its memory, persisted underground in the labor movement during the 1920s to re-emerge during its revival of the 1930s and 1940s.
Outside of the labor movement Tindley's hymn was simplified, and performances began to resemble another folk-based spiritual, "I'll Be All Right", of which many versions exist. Tindley's original refrain, "If in my heart, I do not yield", was simplified to "Deep in my heart, I do believe", and additional improvised verses were added. According to David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, by 1945 the words and the tune had come together in a song still called by Tindley's title, "I'll Overcome Some Day", with additional words by Atron Twigg and a revised musical arrangement by Chicago composer, arranger, and publisher Kenneth Morris. Legendary gospel singer, pianist, and composer Roberta Martin, also based in Chicago, composed another version of "I'll Overcome", the last 12 bars of which are the same as the current version of 'We Shall Overcome.'" Thus by the end of 1945 several versions of "I Will [I'll] Overcome" were current as a gospel song, while on the South Carolina picket line, Lucille Simmons, Delphine Brown, and other striking tobacco workers were singing a slow version of the song as We Will Overcome. Based on the Johns Island, South Carolina version of the song, "I Will Overcome," which "began with a slow rhythmic pulse (sometimes referred to as short meter), then increas[ed] in tempo to a 'shout,'" the protest song utilized by Simmons and Brown was well-suited to the picket line since it produced the effect of "gradually building in intensity as more voices joined the chorus."
Tindley's "I'll Overcome Someday" thus is believed to provide the structure for "We Shall Overcome", with both text and melody having undergone a process of alteration. The tune has been changed so that it now echoes the opening and closing melody of the powerfully resonant 19th-century "No More Auction Block For Me", also known from its refrain as "Many Thousands Gone". This was number 35 in Thomas Wentworth Higginson's collection of Negro Spirituals that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly of June 1867, with a comment by Higginson reflecting on how such songs were composed (i.e., whether the work of a single author or through what used to be called "communal composition"):
Even of this last composition, however, we have only the approximate date and know nothing of the mode of composition. Allan Ramsay says of the Scots Songs, that, no matter who made them, they were soon attributed to the minister of the parish whence they sprang. And I always wondered, about these, whether they had always a conscious and definite origin in some leading mind, or whether they grew by gradual accretion, in an almost unconscious way. On this point I could get no information, though I asked many questions, until at last, one day when I was being rowed across from Beaufort to Ladies' Island, I found myself, with delight, on the actual trail of a song. One of the oarsmen, a brisk young fellow, not a soldier, on being asked for his theory of the matter, dropped out a coy confession. "Some good spirituals," he said, "are start jess out o' curiosity. I been a-raise a sing, myself, once."
My dream was fulfilled, and I had traced out, not the poem alone, but the poet. I implored him to proceed.
"Once we boys," he said, "went for to tote some rice, and de nigger-driver, he keep a-callin' on us; and I say, 'O, de ole nigger-driver!' Den another said, 'First thing my mammy told me was, notin' so bad as a nigger-driver.' Den I made a sing, just puttin' a word, and den another word."
Then he began singing, and the men, after listening a moment, joined in the chorus as if it were an old acquaintance, though they evidently had never heard it before. I saw how easily a new "sing" took root among them.
Bob Dylan has said that he used this very same melodic motif from "No More Auction Block" for his composition "Blowin' in the Wind." Thus similarities of melodic and rhythmic patterns imparted cultural and emotional resonance ("the same feeling") to three different, and historically very significant songs.
The note progression of the tune has a discernable resemblance to the famous lay Catholic hymn "O Sanctissima" (also known as "The Sicilian Mariner's Hymn") collected (or composed) in Italy by Johann Gottfried Herder in the late 18th Century. Arguably an even closer resemblance is to "Caro Mio Ben" attributed to Neapolitan composer Giuseppe Giordani; this is also a late 18th century Italian song and was a staple of 19th century voice teachers.
Role of Highlander Folk School
In the fall of 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina, members of the Food and Tobacco Workers Union (who were mostly female and African American) began a five-month strike against the American Tobacco Company. To keep up their spirits during the cold, wet winter of 1945–1946, strike leaders Lucille Simmons and Delphine Brown led a slow "long meter style" version of the gospel hymn "We'll Overcome" (I'll Be All Right") to end each day's picketing. Union organizer Zilphia Horton, the wife of Myles Horton (co-founder of the Highlander Folk School, later Highlander Research and Education Center), may have learned the song from Lucille Simmons, although the precise line of transmission from the picket lines of South Carolina to the Highlander Folk School remains a mystery. Zilphia Horton was (1935–1956) Highlander's music director, and it became her custom to end group meetings each evening by leading this, her favorite song. During the Presidential Campaign of Henry A. Wallace, We Will Overcome was printed in Bulletin No. 3 (September 1948), 8, of People's Songs with an introduction by Horton saying that she had learned it from the interracial Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) Food and Tobacco Workers' Union workers and had found it to be extremely powerful. Pete Seeger, a founding member, and for three years Director of People's Songs, learned it from Horton's version in 1947. Seeger writes: "I changed it to 'We shall'... I think I liked a more open sound; 'We will' has alliteration to it, but 'We shall' opens the mouth wider; the 'i' in 'will' is not an easy vowel to sing well [...]." Seeger also added some verses ("We'll walk hand in hand" and "The whole wide world around").
In 1950, the CIO's Department of Education and Research released the album Eight New Songs for Labor, sung by Joe Glazer ("Labor's Troubador"), and the Elm City Four. Songs on the album included "I Ain't No Stranger Now", "Too Old to Work", "That's All", "Humblin' Back", "Shine on Me", "Great Day", "The Mill Was Made of Marble", and "We Will Overcome". During a Southern CIO drive, Glazer taught the song to country singer Texas Bill Strength, who recorded a version that was later picked up by 4-Star Records.
The song made its first recorded appearance as "We Shall Overcome" (rather than "We Will Overcome") in 1952 on a disc recorded by Laura Duncan (soloist) and The Jewish Young Singers (chorus) conducted by Robert De Cormier co-produced by Ernie Lieberman and Irwin Silber on Hootenany Records (Hoot 104-A) (Folkways, FN 2513, BCD15720), where it is identified as a Negro Spiritual.
Frank Hamilton, a folk singer from California who was a member of People's Songs and later The Weavers, picked up Seeger's version. Hamilton's friend and traveling companion, fellow-Californian Guy Carawan, learned the song from Hamilton. Carawan and Hamilton, accompanied by Ramblin Jack Elliot, visited Highlander in the early 1950s and would also have heard Zilphia Horton sing the song there. In 1957, Seeger sang for a Highlander audience that included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who remarked on the way to his next stop, in Kentucky, how much the song had stuck with him. When, in 1959, Guy Carawan succeeded Horton as music director at Highlander, he reintroduced it at the school. It was the young (many of them teenagers) student-activists at Highlander, however, who gave the song the words and rhythms we know it by today, when they sang it to keep their spirits up during the frightening police raids on Highlander and their subsequent stays in jail in 1959–60. Because of this, Carawan has been reluctant to claim credit for the song's widespread popularity. In the PBS video We Shall Overcome, Julian Bond credits Carawan with teaching and singing the song at the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1960. From there, it spread orally and became an anthem of Southern African American labor union and civil rights activism. Seeger also has publicly, in concert, credited Carawan with the primary role of teaching and popularizing the song within the Civil Rights Movement.
Use in the 1960s civil rights and other protest movements
In August 1963, 22-year-old folksinger Joan Baez led a crowd of 300,000 in singing "We Shall Overcome" at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. President Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, used the phrase "We shall overcome" in addressing Congress on March 15, 1965 in his speech demanding a voting rights act delivered after the violent "Bloody Sunday" attacks on civil rights demonstrators during the Selma to Montgomery marches, thus joining and legitimizing the protest movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recited the words from "We Shall Overcome" in his final sermon delivered in Memphis on Sunday March 31, 1968, before his assassination. He had done so previously in 1965 in a similar sermon delivered before an interfaith congregation at Temple Israel in Hollywood, California:
We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right; "no lie can live forever". We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right; "truth crushed to earth will rise again". We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right:.
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the then unknown
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day. And in the words of prophecy, every valley shall be exalted. And every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This will be a great day. This will be a marvelous hour. And at that moment—figuratively speaking in biblical words—the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy
Farmworkers in the United States later sang the song in Spanish during strikes and grape boycotts of the late 1960s, and it was notably sung by the U.S. Senator for New York Robert F. Kennedy, when he led anti-apartheid crowds in choruses from the rooftop of his car while touring South Africa in 1966. It was sung by South African freedom fighter Frederick John Harris on April 1, 1965 before his execution for placing a bomb in Johannesburg, in protest of apartheid policies. South African security police agents searched Johannesburg record stores to confiscate copies of the song. According to the New York Times: "They were especially interested in one version of 'We Shall Overcome' recorded by the American folk singer Pete Seeger." It included the verse with the last words sung by Harris on his way to the gallows: "We shall all be free." Soon the song was no longer played on the radio or heard in public in South Africa, but the song had a new life in South African prisons. It was also the song Abie Nathan played as the Voice of Peace on October 1, 1993, and as a result it found its way to South Africa in the later years of the anti-apartheid movement.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association adopted "we shall overcome" as a slogan and used it in the title of their retrospective autobiography publication, We Shall Overcome – The History of the Struggle for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland 1968–1978. The film Bloody Sunday depicts march leader MP Ivan Cooper leading the song shortly before the Bloody Sunday shootings. In 1997, the Christian men's ministry, Promise Keepers featured the song on their worship CD for that year – The Making Of A Godly Man featuring (black) worship leader Donn Thomas (along with the Maranatha! Promise Band). Bruce Springsteen re-interpreted the song, which has been included on Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Tribute to Pete Seeger and his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.
It was first adopted in Northern Ireland in 1968, when the Catholics sang this song when protesting for equal rights; it was the start of future troubles to come which lasted for another 30 years
"We Shall Overcome" later was adopted by various anti-Communist movements in the Cold War and post-Cold War. In his memoir about his years teaching English in Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution, Mark Allen wrote:
|“||In Prague in 1989, during the intense weeks of the Velvet Revolution, hundreds of thousands of people sang this haunting music in unison in Wenceslas Square, both in English and in Czech, with special emphasis on the phrase 'I do believe.' This song's message of hope gave protesters strength to carry on until the powers-that-be themselves finally gave up hope themselves.
In the Prague of 1964, Seeger was stunned to find himself being whistled and booed by crowds of Czechs when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. But those same crowds had loved and adopted his rendition of 'We Shall Overcome.' History is full of such ironies — if only you are willing to see them.
—'Prague Symphony', Praha Publishing, 2008
The melody was also used (crediting it to Tindley) in a symphony by American composer William Rowland. In 1999 National Public Radio included We Shall Overcome on their NPR 100 list of most important American songs of the 20th century. As a reference to the line, on January 20, 2009, after the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th U.S. President, a man holding the banner "WE HAVE OVERCOME" was seen near the Capitol, a day after hundreds of people posed with the sign on Martin Luther King, Jr. day
As the attempted serial killer "Lasermannen" had shot several immigrants around Stockholm in 1992, Prime Minister Carl Bildt and Immigration Minister Birgit Friggebo attended a meeting in Rinkeby. As the audience became upset, Friggebo tried to calm them down by proposing that everyone sing "We Shall Overcome." This statement is widely regarded as one of the most embarrassing moments in Swedish politics. In 2008, the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet listed the Sveriges Television recording of the event as the best political clip available on YouTube.
Middlesbrough Football Club use this song as an unofficial anthem to be sung mainly in times of turmoil and defeat. Notable uses were at Wembley Stadium after the FA Cup Final defeat against Chelsea in 1996 and after relegation due to the English FA's deduction of 3 points after missing a game during the regular season.
Adaptation in India
Renowned poet Girija Kumar Mathur composed its literal translation in Hindi "Hum Honge Kaamyab / Ek Din" which became a popular patriotic/spiritual song during the 1980s, particularly in schools.
In Bengali-speaking India and in Bangladesh there are two versions, both popular among school-children and political activists. Amra Karbo Joy (a literal translation) was translated by the Bengali folk singer Hemanga Biswas and re-recorded by Bhupen Hazarika. Another version, translated by Shibdas Bandyopadhyay, Ek Din Surjyer Bhor (literally translated as One Day The Sun Will Rise) was recorded by the Calcutta Youth Choir arranged by Ruma Guha Thakurta during the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence and became one of the largest selling Bengali records. It was a favorite of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and regularly sung at public events after Bangladesh gained independence.
In the southern Indian State of Kerala, a traditional communist stronghold, the song became popular in college campuses in late 1970s. It was the struggle song of the Students Federation of India SFI, the largest student organisation in the country. The song translated to the regional language Malayalam by N. P. Chandrasekharan, an activist of SFI. The translation followed the same tune of the original song, as Nammal Vijayikkum. Later it was also published in Student, the monthly of SFI in Malayalam and in Sarvadesheeya Ganangal (Mythri Books, Thiruvananthapuram), a translation of international struggle songs.
We Shall Overcome was a prominent song in the 2010 Bollywood film My Name is Khan, which compared the struggle of Muslims in the modern America to the struggles of African Americans in the past. The song was sung in both English and Hindi in the film, which starred Shahrukh Khan.
Copyright and royalties
I'll Overcome Someday, written by Rev. Charles Albert Tindley of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is still thought by many to be the likely source of We Shall Overcome, although the title, words, and tune differ substantially . Even had the two been more similar, Tindley's hymn was published in 1901, and in the public domain, according to United States copyright law. We Shall Overcome is registered as a derivative work with no original author listed. It is an adaptation by Zilphia Horton, Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton, and Pete Seeger of a song that Zilphia Horton heard sung by union organizer Lucille Simmons in 1945. Horton's heirs, Carawan, Hamilton, and Seeger, share the artists' half of the rights, and TRO (The Richmond Organization, which includes Ludlow Music, Essex, Folkways Music, and Hollis Music), holds the publishers rights (to 50% of the royalty earnings). Pete Seeger explained that he took out a defensive copyright on advice of his publisher, TRO, to prevent someone else from doing so and "At that time we didn't know Lucille Simmons' name." Their royalties go to the "We Shall Overcome" Fund, administered by Highlander under the trusteeship of the "writers" (i.e., the holders of the writers' share of the copyright, who, strictly speaking, are the arrangers and adapters). Such funds are used to give small grants for cultural expression involving African Americans organizing in the U.S. South.
- 281. We Will Overcome. People's Songs, September 1948, p. 8
- Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Musical Autobiography by Pete Seeger, 1993–1997, p. 34
- Dunaway, David King; Beer, Molly (17 March 2010). Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals. Oxford University Press. pp. 141–2. ISBN 978-0-19-988859-7.
- Dunaway, David King, Beer, Molly; "Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals" (2010) Oxford University Press / p. 142
- "We shall overcome : Sacred Song on the Devil's Tongue" / Isaias Gamboa p. 284; edited by JoAnne F. Henry, Ph.D. and Audrey Owen. Amapola Publishers, Beverly Hills, California 2012 / US Library of Congress Catalog number: 2012560833/ Call Number: ML3918.P67 G36 2012
- Holthaus, David (Aug 28, 2013). "Book: Cincinnati musician wrote 'We Shall Overcome'". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved Feb 17, 2014.
- Act No. 0079-2013 of September 3, 2013
- It is reproduced on the entry for Charles Albert Tindley on the website of the Taylor House Museum in Berlin, Maryland, the town of his birth.
- The pentatonic scale most favored in African-American spiritual and folk songs is composed of major seconds and a minor third. Of the 45 songs in Tindley's catalog, fifteen (approximately one third), use the diatonic scale; fourteen (nearly a third) use a pentatonic scale; and the remaining seventeen use different varieties of gapped (essentially also pentatonic) scales: ten have the seventh tone omitted; six, the fourth tone omitted; and one uses a four tone scale. See Horace Clarence Boyer, "Charles Albert Tindley: Progenitor of Black-American Gospel Music", The Black Perspective in Music 11: No. 2 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 103–132.
- Tindley was a composer for whom the lyrics constituted its major element; while the melody and were handled with care, these elements were regarded as subservient to the text." (Boyer, , p. 113.)
- Boyer (1983), p. 113.
- Pete Seeger, 2006 interview with Amy Goodman (Sept. 9, 2006) states that a "professor from Pennsylvania" sent him this information in 2004.
- The United Mine Workers was racially integrated from its founding was notable for having a large black presence, particularly in Alabama and West Virginia. The Alabama branch, whose membership was three quarters black, in particular, met with fierce, racially based resistance during a strike in 1908 and was crushed. See Daniel Letwin, "Interracial Unionism, Gender, and "Social Equality in the Alabama Coalfields, 1878–1908", The Journal of Southern History LXI: 3 (August, 1955): 519–554.
- Seeger speculates that, "it's probably a late 19th century union version of what was a well-known gospel song, "I'll overcome, I'll overcome, I'll overcome some day". This is a hypothesis on Seeger's part, unless Tindley's composition was, as is entirely possible, a re-working from folk or even labor movement sources.
- Reverend Gary Davis, who was originally from the North Carolina Piedmont region, sings a version of "I'll Be All Right" with the phrase "Deep in my heart, I do believe" sung to the familiar We Shall Overcome tune, recorded in 1960. However, Davis, a New York City resident since the late 1940s, and an important figure in the 1950s and 1960s folk revival, had by then undoubtedly heard the familiar modern civil rights anthem.
- The People's Almanac, (New York: Doubleday, 1975).
- Reagon, Bernice Johnson (1975). "Songs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1955–1965: Study in Culture History". Ph.D. diss. Howard University: 65–66.
- Redmond, Shana L. (2014). Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: New York University Press. p. 173. ISBN 9780814770412.
- James Fuld, tentatively attributes the change to the version by Antron Twigg and Kenneth Morris. See James J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (noted by Wallace and Wallechinsky)1966; New York: Dover, 1995). According to Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of North America, "No More Auction Block For Me" originated in Canada and was sung by former slaves who fled there after Britain abolished slavery in 1833.
- Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History, Second Edition (Norton, 1971): 546–47, 159–60.
- The Atlantic Monthly "Negro Spirituals" (June 1867)19: 116: 685–694.
- From the sleeve notes to Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3" – "... it was Pete Seeger who first identified Dylan's adaptation of the melody of this song ["No More Auction Block"] for the composition of "Blowin in the Wind". Indeed, Dylan himself was to admit the debt in 1978, when he told journalist Marc Rowland: "Blowin' in the Wind" has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song called "No More Auction Block" — that's a spiritual, and "Blowin in the Wind sorta follows the same feeling ..."
- No one has ever found published versions of the tune in Italy, though a version antedating Herder's by a few years was published in London. In any case, whether he composed or collected it Herder had based his song on the Italian folk tradition.
- Redmond, Shana L. (2014). Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: New York University Press. p. 172. ISBN 9780814770412.
- Dunaway, 1990, 222–23; Seeger, 1993, 32; see also, Robbie Lieberman, My Song is My Weapon: People's Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930–50 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,  1995) p.46, p. 185
- 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 1-881322-01-7
- Ronald Cohen and Dave Samuelson, Songs for Political Action: Folkmusic, Topical Songs And the American Left 1926–1953 (This lavish book is published as part of Bear Family Records 10-CD box set published in Germany in 1996. It includes a selection of satirical Trotskyist songs from 1953 by Joe Glazer and Bill Friedland that make fun of folk singers and folk songs in general and are bitterly critical of the Popular Front and the labor movement from the point of view of the ultra-left, taking them to task, for example, for cooperating with FDR and for agreeing not to strike during the war.
- Dunaway, 1990, 222–223; Seeger, 1993, 32.
- Lyndon Johnson, speech of March 15, 1965, accessed March 28, 2007 on HistoryPlace.com
- "A new normal"..
- "A New Addition to Martin Luther King's Legacy".
- From the first King had liked to cite these same inspiration passages. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" is from the writings of Theodore Parker the Unitarian abolitionist minister who was King's favorite theologian. Compare the transcript of this 1957 speech given in Washington, D.C."Give Us the Ballot,". Address Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington D.C. 1957-05-17..
- Kotz, Nick (2005). "14. Another Martyr". Judgment days : Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the laws that changed America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 419. ISBN 0-618-08825-3.
- Thomas, Evan. Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 322. ISBN 0-7432-0329-1.
- Dunaway ([1981, 1990] 2008) p. 243.
- CAIN: Civil Rights Association by Bob Purdie
- CAIN: Events: Civil Rights – "We Shall Overcome" published by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA; 1978)
- The NPR 100 The most important American musical works of the 20th century
- We Have Overcome Washington Bureau Herd in Washington | Washington Bureau.January 20, 2009 – 10:35 AM
- Ledarbloggens Youtubiana – hela listan! Svenska Dagbladet, 2 october 2008 (Swedish)
- Roger Waters releases "We Shall Overcome" video Floydian Slip, June 7, 2010
- Seeger, 1993, p. 33
- Highlander Reports, 2004, p. 3.
- Dunaway, David, How Can I Keep from Singing: Pete Seeger, (orig. pub. 1981, reissued 1990). Da Capo, New York, ISBN 0-306-80399-2.
- 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 1-881322-01-7
- ___, "The We Shall Overcome Fund". Highlander Reports, newsletter of the Highlander Research and Education Center, August–November 2004, p. 3.
- We Shall Overcome, PBS Home Video 174, 1990, 58 minutes.
- Gamboa, Isaias We Shall Overcome: Sacred Song on the Devil's Tongue / Amapola Publishers, Beverly Hills, California 2012 / US Library of Congress Catalog number: 2012560833/ Call Number: ML3918.P67 G36 2012 / ISBN 978-0615475288
- Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs: Compiled and edited by Guy and Candie Carawan; foreword by Julian Bond (New South Books, 2007), comprising two classic collections of freedom songs: We Shall Overcome (1963) and Freedom Is A Constant Struggle (1968), reprinted in a single edition. The book includes a major new introduction by Guy and Candie Carawan, words and music to the songs, important documentary photographs, and firsthand accounts by participants in the Civil Rights Movement. Available from Highlander Center.
- We Shall Overcome! Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement: Julius Lester, editorial assistant. Ethel Raim, music editor: Additional musical transcriptions: Joseph Byrd [and] Guy Carawan. New York: Oak Publications, 1963.
- Freedom is a Constant Struggle, compiled and edited by Guy and Candie Carawan. Oak Publications, 1968.
- Alexander Tsesis, We Shall Overcome: A History of Civil Rights and the Law. Yale University Press, 2008.
- We Shall Overcome: A Song that Changed the World, by Stuart Stotts, illustrated by Terrance Cummings, foreword by Pete Seeger. New York: Clarion Books, 2010.
- Sing for Freedom, Folkways Records, produced by Guy and Candie Carawan, and the Highlander Center. Field recordings from 1960–88, with the Freedom Singers, Birmingham Movement Choir, Georgia Sea Island Singers, Doc Reese, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Len Chandler, and many others. Smithsonian-Folkways CD version 1990.
- We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert, June 8, 1963, Historic Live recording June 8, 1963. 2-disc set, includes the full concert, starring Pete Seeger, with the Freedom Singers, Columbia # 45312, 1989. Re-released 1997 by Sony as a box CD set.
- Voices Of The Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960–1966 [BOX CD SET] With the Freedom Singers, Fanny Lou Hammer, and Bernice Johnson Reagon, Smithsonian-Folkways CD ASIN: B000001DJT (1997).
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- We Shall Overcome on National Public Radio
- Charles Tindley page on Taylor House Museum. This page also reproduces the We Shall Overcome entry from Wallace and Wallechinsky's People's Almanac.
- Authorized Profile of Guy Carawan with history of the song, We Shall Overcome from the Association of Cultural Equity
- Freedom in the Air: Albany Georgia. 1961–62. SNCC #101. Recorded by Guy Carawan, produced for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee by Guy Carawan and Alan Lomax. "Freedom In the Air ... is a record of the 1961 protest in Albany, Georgia, when, two weeks before Christmas, 737 people brought the town nearly to a halt to force its integration. The record's never been reissued and that's a shame, as it's a moving document of a community through its protest songs, church services, and experiences in the thick of the civil rights struggle." — Nathan Salsburg, host, Root Hog or Die, East Village Radio, January 2007.
- Susanne´s Folksong-Notizen, excerpts from various articles, liner notes, etc. about We Shall Overcome.
- Musical Transcription of We Shall Overcome, based on a recording of Pete Seeger's version, sung with the SNCC Freedom Singers on the 1963 live Carnegie Hall recording, and the 1988 version by Pete Seeger sung at a reunion concert with Pete and the Freedom Singers on the anthology, Sing for Freedom, recorded in the field 1960–88 and edited and annotated by Guy and Candie Carawan, released in 1990 as Smithsonian-Folkways CD SF 40032.
- NPR news article including full streaming versions of Pete Seeger's classic 1963 live Carnegie Hall recording and Bruce Springsteen's tribute version.
- "Pete Seeger & the story of 'We Shall Overcome'" from 1968 interview on the Pop Chronicles.
- "Something About That Song Haunts You", essay on the history of "We Shall Overcome", Complicated Fun, June 9, 2006.
- "Howie Richmond Views Craft Of Song: Publishing Giant Celebrates 50 Years As TRO Founder", by Irv Lichtman, Billboard, 8, 28, 1999. Excerpt: "Key folk songs in the [TRO] catalog, as arranged by a number of folklorists, are 'We Shall Overcome,' 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine' 'On Top Of Old Smokey,' 'So Long, It's Been Good To Know You,' 'Goodnight Irene,' 'If I Had A Hammer,' 'Tom Dooley,' and 'Rock Island Line.'"
- We Shall Overcome Book", Site for Stotts book (see below) with related links and teacher guides.