We Shall Overcome


We Shall Overcome was inspired by a hymn, "I'll Overcome Some Day," derived from Galatians 6:9, written by Charles Albert Tindley and published in 1900. The first stanza:
The world is one great battlefield,
With forces all arrayed;
If in my heart I do not yield,
I'll overcome some day.
The hymn evolved into a protest song. Folksinger Joan Baez led a crowd of 300,000 singing it at the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial. President Lyndon B. Johnson used the phrase "we shall overcome" in his speech following the violence in the Selma to Montgomery March (Bloody Sunday).
But it is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s recitations which galvanized its association with The Civil Rights Movement. He first recited the hymn to the interfaith congregation at Temple Israel in Hollywood, California in 1965. Most memorably, he recited it in his final sermon delivered in Memphis on Sunday, March 31, 1968, before his assassination.

We Shall Overcome
Mississippi Freedom Democrat protest, Atlantic City, 1964

"We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right; "no lie can live forever". We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right; "truth crushed to earth will rise again". We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right:."

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the then unknown
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

"With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day. And in the words of prophecy, every valley shall be exalted. And every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This will be a great day. This will be a marvelous hour. And at that moment—figuratively speaking in biblical words—the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy."

We Shall Overcome was featured as The Short Story of the Day on Sun, Jan 16, 2022

We Shall Overcome was sung by over fifty thousand attendees at Dr. King's funeral, days after he last recited it.


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