Guy Carawan, We Shall Overcome Singer, Dies at 87

Guy Carawan Dies at 87

Credit: Getty Images (We Shall Overcome was sung at the Selma to Montgomery march for black voting rights.)

Guy Carawan who gave an anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’ to the Civil Rights Movement passes away at 87.

During April of 1960 Guy Carawan sang a little known folk song called ‘We Shall Overcome’ in front of a group of black students in Raleigh, N.C. the song ‘We Shall Overcome’ went on to become an anthem that has echoed in history to this date as the song of the oppressed all around the world.

The song ‘We Shall Overcome’ had its origin in the 18th century but the current version famous around the world was first sung by Guy Carawan. After Carawan sang the song it was adopted as a ‘Civil Rights Movement’ anthem and was sung by people in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965. 

The feel of the song was so strong it was again used as an anthem during the apartheid-era in South Africa, at the site of the dismantled Berlin Wall and at the international demonstrations in support of the Tiananmen Square protesters. 

The current version derives it lyrics from the hymn ‘I’ll Overcome Some Day’ by Charles Albert Tindley a black Methodist minister during the 20th century turn. Carawan first encountered the song at Highlander in the 1950’s, as he played the guitar and became deeply interested in folk music. Carawan believed folk music could be used a way to social progress. 

Carawan was a folk singer and folklorist, but did not write the song ‘We Shall Overcome’ nor did he ever claim to have written it. Carawan sang the song at the inaugural meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on the 15th of April, 1960, which was felt by the hundreds of delegates present and therefore Carawan unknowingly fathered an anthem.

The version sung by Carawan was described as ‘the ‘Marseillaise’ of the integration movement’ in 1963 by the New York Times

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