Wednesday , September 23 2020

We Shall Not Be Overcome

Although it gets very technical and boring and rife with legalese, the issue of copyright has very real ramifications for every one of us: the further copyright is extended, the smaller becomes the public domain, the open repository of our public culture. Here’s a specific example for MLK Jr. day.

“We Shall Overcome” is the song most associated with King’s civil rights movement, it was created out of the – can you guess? – public domain thusly:

    “This song was originally one of two African American Spirituals: ‘I’ll Overcome Some Day’ or ‘I’ll be All Right.’ In 1946, several hundred employees of the American Tobacco Company in Charleston, South Carolina were on strike. They sang on the picket line to keep their spirits. Lucille Simmons started singing the song on the picket line and changed one important word from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ Zilphia Horton learned it when a group of strikers visited the Highland Fold School, the Labor Education Center in Tennessee. She taught it to me and we published it as WE SHALL OVERCOME in our songletter, People’s Songs Bulletin. In 1952, I taught it to Guy Carawan and Frank Hamilton. Guy introduced the song to the founding convention of SNCC (student non-violent Coordinating Committee) in North Carolina. It swept the country.” -PETE SEEGER

A simlar version of the story here:

    Lyrics derived from Charles Tindley’s gospel song “I’ll Overcome Some Day” (1900), and opening and closing melody from the 19th-century spiritual “No More Auction Block for Me” (a song that dates to before the Civil War). According to Professor Donnell King of Pellissippi State Technical Community College (in Knoxville, Tenn.), “We Shall Overcome” was adapted from these gospel songs by “Guy Carawan, Candy Carawan, and a couple of other people associated with the Highlander Research and Education Center, currently located near Knoxville, Tennessee. I have in my possession copies of the lyrics that include a brief history of the song, and a notation that royalties from the song go to support the Highlander Center.”

    1.
    We shall overcome
    We shall overcome
    We shall overcome some day

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

    2.
    We’ll walk hand in hand
    We’ll walk hand in hand
    We’ll walk hand in hand some day

    CHORUS

    3.
    We shall all be free
    We shall all be free
    We shall all be free some day

    CHORUS

    4.
    We are not afraid
    We are not afraid
    We are not afraid some day

    CHORUS

    5.
    We are not alone
    We are not alone
    We are not alone some day

    CHORUS

    6.
    The whole wide world around
    The whole wide world around
    The whole wide world around some day

    CHORUS

    7.
    We shall overcome
    We shall overcome
    We shall overcome some day

    CHORUS

The most important anthem of the civil rights movement wouldn’t exist without the public domain – this is not hypothetical, don’t let our cultural repository be taken away.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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