We Shall Overcome

DESCRIPTION: "We shall overcome (x3), Some day, Oh deep in my heart, (I know that) I do believe, We shall overcome some day." Verses about the troubles of life, and how (with help from God/brothers/etc.) they can be overcome/survived. Many modern verses known
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1908 (sung in miner's union meeting in Alabama, as reported in the United Mine Workers' journal)
KEYWORDS: religious discrimination nonballad
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Joyner, pp. 107-108, "We Will Overcome" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scott-BoA, pp. 352-353, "We Shall Overcome" (1 text, 1 tune)
Arnett, p. 216, "We Shall Overcome" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 296, "We Shall Overcome" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 623-627+, "We Shall Overcome"

Mississippi Bracy [pseud. for Ishmon Bracey?] "I'll Overcome Some Day" (Okeh 8904, 1931; rec. 1930)
Pete Seeger, "We Shall Overcome" (on PeteSeeger05) (on PeteSeeger38) (on PeteSeeger48)
SNCC Freedom Singers, Pete Seeger et al, "We Shall Overcome" (on SingFreeCD)
SNCC Freedom Singers, "We Shall Overcome" (on VoicesCiv)
Unnamed singers at mass rally, "We Shall Overcome" (on VoicesCiv)

cf. "I'll Be All Right" (tune, structure, lyrics)
NOTES [312 words]: The "common version" of this song was created by Zilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, and Pete Seeger. In this form it became an anthem of the civil rights movement. Traces of the old spiritual survive, however, and it is of course very easy to make up new verses to fit a particular situation.
Fuld gives a detailed analysis of the musical and textual sources of the piece. Reading them, though, one cannot help but think that he has completely missed the actual sources of the black spiritual. - RBW
Isn't one of the sources "I'll Be All Right," a traditional spiritual? - PJS
It at least has associated texts, but is not mentioned as a source by Fuld, and is mentioned only tangentially in a footnote. Hence my comment. - RBW
The recent discovery that "We Will Overcome," the earlier form of the song (Pete Seeger changed "will" to "shall" because it was better for singing) was being sung as early as 1908, and in the context of a labor struggle no less, casts some ambiguity on the question of which song was the ancestor and which the descendant. See the entry for "I'll Be All Right." - PJS
In 2017, the whole issue of authorship came up in court, because the copyright holders were demanding high royalties for the use of the song. It came out that Zilphia Horton had taken the song down from some unknown person. She died before copyright (in the name of Horton, Frank Hamilton, and Guy Carawan) was applied for. Pete Seeger's name was later added -- not by Seeger -- probably to give the version more clout. Seeger said he accepted it at the time to prevent Hollywood from messing with the song, but he asked in 1994 that his name be taken off the copyright. In September 2017, the court ruled that the first verse, at least, was public domain; the copyrighted version did not differ sufficiently from traditional versions. Which is pretty clearly true. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
File: SBoA352

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