We Shall Overcome

We Shall Overcome…

When I was growing up, I didn’t have many records to listen to, but those I had I listened to over and over again. I can honestly say they helped shape the person I am today, my likes and dislikes, and more significantly, my beliefs and the mores by which I live. One such record was Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome which included some of the songs he sang at his 1963 Carnegie Hall concert. I was 7 when this record, Pete Seeger’s commentary about the songs, and the songs themselves, such as If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus, I Ain’t Scared of Your Jail (‘Cause I Want My Freedom), Oh Freedom, and the wonderful We Shall Overcome, began to teach me about the struggles in the Southern United States, and began to shape my world view. Those songs also made Martin Luther King, Jr. my hero.

Music and Words are Powerful Things

Imagine yourself a slave in the Deep South, struggling to survive, struggling to work hard enough to avoid the driver’s lash, then you hear it. A lone voice begins to sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” To an outsider, the slaves are just singing to keep their spirits up, but you recognize the signal. Tonight will be your chance to escape. A conductor for the Underground Railroad is nearby. The hidden message in the song has told you that. You feel your spirits rise, your courage strengthen. Now imagine you are on a long, hard march. You are bone-weary, foot-sore. You have been knocked down by the force of firehoses turned on you and the marchers around you. You have seen people next to you beaten with billy clubs. You don’t know if you can go on. Then someone starts singing softly. “We shall overcome…” One by one the people around you join in the song, as do you. You feel your spirits rise, your courage strengthen. Deep in your heart, you do believe that we shall overcome some day. Music is a powerful thing.

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