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We shall overcome

We shall overcome

AN ANALYSIS OF WE SHALL OVERCOME BY JOAN BAEZ

Name

Course Title

Instructor’s name

Date

We shall overcome

We shall overcome

We shall overcome, someday

Oh, deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome, someday

We’ll walk hand in hand

We’ll walk hand in hand

We’ll walk hand in hand, someday

Oh, deep in my heart

We shall live in peace

We shall live in peace

We shall live in peace, some day

Oh, deep in my heart

We shall all be free

We shall all be Free

We shall all be free, someday

Oh, deep in my heart

We are not afraid

We are not afraid

We are not afraid, TODAY

Oh, deep in my heart

We shall overcome

We shall overcome

We shall overcome, someday

Oh, deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome, someday

Introduction

We Shall Overcome became popular in the 1960s after Pete Seeger learned, adapted, and taught it to audiences during the American civil rights movement. The song expanded and evolved over half a century before Joan Baez recorded it in 1963 after which it became an anthem in the movement. The melody dates back to No More Auction Block For Me a song that existed before the civil war. The original lyrics of the song were “I’ll Overcome Someday” which links to the hymn composed by Philadelphia’s Reverend Chares Tindley. In Monteagle, the Highlander Folk school’s director often asked workshop attendants to teach songs. The workers sang the song titled “I’ll Be Alright” and director Horton was captivated with one of the verses that repeated “I’ll overcome” and the union workers urged her to rewrite it to make it more collective. It later emerged with the title “We Will Overcome” but the version was much drawn out, slower, and emphasized every word. Pete Seeger visited the school a year later and Horton taught him the song which he also changed will to shall before adapting it for use for his audience and shows. The current lyrics are attributed to Pete but shares copyright with Carawan, Horton, and Frank Hamilton. The song relates to civil rights in that it contributed to the labor movement, is plain, and is used to date around the world where people gather in the name of justice and freedom.

Meaning

We Shall Overcome is a song that offered comfort, courage, and hope to protesters who came out to confront hate and prejudice in the quest for equal rights for people of color during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The lyrics say, ” deep in my heart, I do believe that one day, we will live in peace, we shall all be free, we are not afraid, we shall overcome”. This is a clear indication of the struggles and suffering of African American people at the time. The main theme evident in the song is hope, suffering, and courage; the song served as an awakening for people to pay attention to the inequality that existed then. Even Martin Luther King used the phrase “We Shall Overcome” in his Memphis speech, four days before he was assassinated. The song was actively used by striking workers from Charleston as they engage in long strikes that lasted months to protest the unfair wages they were paid at the tobacco factory they worked for.

Audience

The intended audience for the song was the members of the general public. The song targeted the wider population particularly the African-American population who were oppressed and treated as second class citizens; they were denied education and voting rights2. To understand and appreciate the song, the listener needs to be familiar with the civil rights movement and the oppressing conditions under which people of color existed. One ought to be familiar with the racial segregation that existed at the time of the civil rights movement. The lyrics say ‘we are not afraid’; a depiction that they always lived in fear but finally they overcame it.

Viewpoints

The song presents the viewpoint that every person was familiar with the inequality that people of color were subjected to. It presents the world as an unequal and harsh place for various groups of people particularly marginalized groups such as women and people of color. The composer of the song assumes that the listener belongs to the groups which are oppressed. He assumes that the audience are people of color and that they oppose inequality the same way as the composer. This is because all along and throughout the song, the composer uses the pronoun ‘we’ pointing out that the people singing the song share common problems and beliefs.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the song “We Shall Overcome” is a rather meaningful and sentimental song that strives to pass across a clear message about inequalities and oppression. The musical arrangement is quite catchy and the lyrics simple but sturdy. The lyrics employ repetition to emphasize the message in the song. The protestors used the song and chanted it whenever they had demonstrations. It helped draw attention making them be heard. There are similar songs that were used to pass across similar messages about patriotism, oppression, and inequality. An example of a similar song is Alright, a song released in 2015 by Kendrick Lamar. The song has a similar impact with We Shall Overcome. Lamar said that he saw children in the streets chanting a “we gon’ be alright” and that the song brought hope and feeling. The song addresses systemic oppression and touches the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bibliography

Mortara, Elèna. “How the Winds Are Blowing: Joan Baez & Bob Dylan: a Personal Medley of Music, Memories, and Visions.” How the Winds Are Blowing: Joan Baez & Bob Dylan: a Personal Medley of Music, Memories, and Visions (2020): 103-112.

Otfinoski, Steven. The Selma Marches for Civil Rights: We Shall Overcome. Capstone, 2018.

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