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They Sang "We Shall Overcome"

For a number of years now, I have viewed this past week as something of a Civil Rights recognition week, remembering the wrongs that took place, recognizing the brave people who tried to change the situation and celebrating the progress that has been made. When I was teaching elementary music, there were several songs in our books about Martin Luther King, Jr., and I remember a recording giving excerpts from his "I Have a Dream" speech with a choral group singing "We Shall Overcome" in the background. I did my best to describe to my students what school and many things in Alabama looked like in the 1950's and 1960's. It was clear from their faces that they had a hard time grasping what I was saying. The blacks in the South had so very much to try to overcome in those days. I watched from afar, but their obstacles were not MY obstacles, so I can't say that I can ever truly understand.

The first verse says: " We shall overcome, we shall overcome. We shall overcome some day Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe. We shall overcome some day." Other verses follow with: "The Lord will see us through." "We're on to victory." "We'll walk hand in hand." "We are not afraid." "The truth shall make us free." "We shall live in peace."

I found this excerpt of explanation in the Library of Congress website:

It was the most powerful song of the 20th century. It started out in church pews and picket lines, inspired one of the greatest freedom movements in U.S. history, and went on to topple governments and bring about reform all over the world. Word for word, the short, simple lyrics of "We Shall Overcome" might be some of the most influential words in the English language.

"We Shall Overcome" has it roots in African American hymns from the early 20th century, and was first used as a protest song in 1945, when striking tobacco workers in Charleston, S.C., sang it on their picket line. By the 1950s, the song had been discovered by the young activists of the African American civil rights movement, and it quickly became the movement’s unofficial anthem. Its verses were sung on protest marches and in sit-ins, through clouds of tear gas and under rows of police batons, and it brought courage and comfort to bruised, frightened activists as they waited in jail cells, wondering if they would survive the night. When the long years of struggle ended and President Lyndon Johnson vowed to fight for voting rights for all Americans, he included a final promise: "We shall overcome."

We all face challenges in our lives that cause us to look for ways to overcome them. If the obstacles or difficulties canNOT be changed, we have to work on our attitudes toward them. If the obstacles can be changed or removed with valiant effort, we have to reach down deep and summon the courage and the strength to put forth those efforts.

One of the most powerful rallying cries for Christians in the Bible was written by the Apostle Paul in Romans, chapter 8. Let these words give US the courage and strength we need to face our obstacles.

Romans 8:31-39 -- "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


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