We Shall Overcome…

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC

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.

Today, all over the world, many people are commemorating Dr. King on what is known generally as Martin Luther King Day, and is known to some simply as Martin’s Day. For many, it is a special day of service. For me, it is a day for remembering what an amazing man Dr. King was, and for being grateful for how far people have come in the last fifty years. It is also a day for hoping fervently that the journey toward the future he envisioned will continue, and that some day there will be true equality, compassion and caring among all people.

It is so appropriate, and so moving, that the first African American President of the United States is being publicly inaugurated for his second term on Martin Luther King Day (after privately taking the Oath of Office on the 20th as law requires).

We shall overcome.


Are there songs that have influenced your views of life?

11 thoughts on “We Shall Overcome…”

  1. When I see how far we have come (and there’s a LONG way still to go) for greater equality for African-Americans, it gives me hope for the LGBTQ community. I am so grateful for those like MLK, who stand up and speak out.

  2. When I think of music, I can’t help thinking of how it has been and will always be a certain anthem in the lives of so many. It plays its part in significant ceremonies, was a form of communication and strength building during times of Southern US enslavement, has been a generational definer and is a comfort in the backdrop of my life.

    Today’s holiday, MLK day, is a wonderful holiday to celebrate the man, the memory and the struggle. There are still more ways to improve, but progress has been made. We shall overcome is a matter of We are overcoming day by day.

  3. What a beautiful and meaningful post, Beth!

    Hooray for Pete Seeger and other like him who fought battles using music as their weapon of choice. My life was shaped by music, absolutely. But I’m a little embarrassed to say that the songs I found most intriguing/affecting as a VERY young girl weren’t important or powerful. “Purple People Eater,” “The Thing,” “Beep-Beep?” Not pivotal in improving society. But they made me feel like a powerful musician and I guess that’s a good thing, too.

    I’m a few years older than you are, so by the time I was tired of running around in circles honking an imaginary car horn and singing “Beep Beep,” the folk song era was branching into the anti-war/anti-establishment/anti-nearly-everything-but-freedom era. Tom Lehrer was my hero.

    Wonderful post!!!

  4. What a nice tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. I had the same thought about the inauguration.

    Last week, my seven-year-old granddaughter told me that they had a video at school about Dr. King. I asked her if she liked it.

    She said, “I liked the part about his dream.”

    So, I asked, “What do you think his dream was?”

    Her response was something like . . . That things would be fair for everyone.

    “Do you think his dream came true?”

    “Of course it did!”

    I had mixed emotions about her response. Happy that she lives in a child’s world where based on her life experience, she believes this. Happy that we have made great strides in America since I was her age. Happy that things have occurred that would make Dr. King proud of human kind. But I also had a desire to explain to her that we are not there, yet. Of course, I chose to let her enjoy the feeling that there is fairness for all as long as she can.

    I have many songs that touch me, but I think for the purpose of this discussion, I would pick, John Lennon’s IMAGINE.

  5. I think this post is so moving and strikes such a personal note for me. I can remember listening to this record over and over again myself. My grandmother requested it and could not get enough of it. As a young child, I did not know why it moved her so. However the emotion on her face as she listened and sang along has always stayed with me. Now, understanding the depths of her emotional attachment to that song, fills me. Growing up in rural Louisiana, I was protected from so much. Still, I remember the evening whispers of the adults as they sat of the front porch detailing hardships…such hardships. Yet, I am so proud of my country and what we’ ve accomplished. Yes, there’s still much to do. Oh, but the feeling of the Promise is what pushes, motivates, and inspires. Thank you so much for this post, Beth.

  6. Great post, Beth, and all so very true. I also have fond memories of childhood records, and they shaped the person I became as well, but in a different way – I listened to Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel, A Bargain For Frances, and The Stories of Babar, among others 🙂

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