[This page is part of a series of radical song links connected with these articles.
To see an index of other song pages, click here.]
There are many articles that discuss the origins of this iconic civil rights anthem from the USA, and I’ve just collated a few of them here for you to peruse, and I’ll put together some videos of different singers below as well. The short story is that the song was derived from various sources, the strongest of which Pete Seeger cited as ‘I’ll overcome someday’ by Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley. A different song with similar words was recognised as the source by the courts in 2018 as ‘If My Jesus Wills’ by Louise Shropshire, a music minister in Cincinnati. Either way, the change that turned the song into a civil rights anthem it became was turning ‘I’ to ‘We’.
Pete Seeger, Zilphia Horton, Guy Carawan, and Frank Hamilton went on to make ‘protective copyright’ of the song as a derivative song, and all the royalties went to support African American arts and education through the Highlander Center in Tennessee. (https://highlandercenter.org/programs/we-shall-overcome-fund/)
Here you can hear an archive recording of people singing this song together in the streets, which is where the real meaning of this song was formed during years of direct action and other activism: https://folkways.si.edu/voices-of-the-civil-rights-movement-black-american-freedom-songs-1960-1966/african-american-music-documentary-struggle-protest/album/smithsonian
Folkways have made available a whole playlist of archive recordings of voices from the US Civil Rights Struggle, including We Shall Overcome :
You can learn to sing We Shall Overcome in Arabic and Hindi, and find a 3 part arrangement of the song here.