Tuesday, July 4, 2017

`We Shall Overcome' Civil Rights Protest Folk Song's History Revisited

The 1960's civil rights movement anthem, "We Shall Overcome", was probably the most widely-sung protest folk song that civil rights movement demonstrators sang at street and church rallies, street protest marches and at their restaurant sit-ins, when they were engaged in acts of non-violent civil disobedience during the 1960's.

In 1901, Rev. Charles Tindley composed a folk song, "I'll Overcome Some Day," to the tune of the "I'll Be All Right" slave spiritual that was derived from the tune of "O Sanctissima," an 18th-century European hymn. Decades later, during a strike by American Tobacco factory workers in 1945, while on a picket line of African-American workers, Lucille Simmons changed the "I'll overcome" lyric to "We will overcome" or "We shall overcome" and sang the "I'll Overcome Some Day" tune more slowly. And in 1947, as "We Shall Overcome," the new version reached Zilphia Horton at the Highlander Folk School, which trained civil rights movement and labor movement organizers and activists in the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's.

At the Highlander Folk School during the 1950's and early 1960's, folksinger and civil rights movement activist Guy Carawan then taught the "We Shall Overcome" protest folk song to civil rights movement activists and organizers, including those who were members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] in the early 1960's; and Pete Seeger also began to popularize the "We Shall Overcome" protest folk song during the 1950's and early 1960's.

According to Hardeep Phull's 2008 book, Story Behind The Protest Song, in the late 1950's or 1960's "Seeger's manager Harold Leventhal advised" Pete "that a copyright should be taken out on `We Shall Overcome'" and "it was also decided that the proceeds would be donated to...SNCC;" and since "SNCC's demise" in the late 1960's "proceeds go to the Highlander Research and Education Center."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Paul Robeson's UK Interview of January 13, 1960 Revisited

Following is an excerpt from Bob Leeson's article about his 1960 interview with U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson that appeared in the January 14, 1960 issue of the British Daily Worker newspaper:

"When the Daily Worker 30th anniversary celebration takes place in the Albert Hall on March 13 [1960] Paul Robeson will be there.

"In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Worker yesterday...the great Negro singer expressed...his pleasure at being able to attend the paper's birthday...

"`And I want to get down to my study of music...of the teaching of music to children,' he added.

"`In my experience, music should not be thought of as inaccessible to the mass of people. I fell musicians have made a bit of a cult of it. They have convinced many people that to learn about it is like going into the field of atomic physics.

"I feel that modern musicians can solve the problem and get out of the corner they are in by going back to folk music, rather than trying to create a new musical language out of their own brains, for there is a language of folk music which is universal...'"


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Paul Robeson Predicted 1960s U.S. Student Protest Movement In 1955

Five years before African-American students and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] student activists began their mass-based non-violent sit-in protests in opposition to Jim Crow and segregation in the southern region of United States in 1960, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights movement activist Paul Robeson predicted that a student protest movement in the USA would develop. In the May 1955 issue of his Freedom journal, for example, Robeson wrote:

"It is good, these days, to get out to the college campuses and see the stirring of new life among the students. The Ivy Curtain of conformity, which for a decade has shut them off from the sunlight of independent thinking, is beginning to wilt. The fresh breeze of free expression is beginning to filter into the stale atmosphere of the cold-war classrooms...

"Yes, a ferment is growing among America's students, both Negro and white. Many are beginning to see that if a concern for future jobs has dictated conformity, a concern for their very lives requires that they think for themselves..."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Paul Robeson Opposed U.S. Military Intervention In Vietnam In 1950's

Long before a mass-based U.S. anti-war movement against U.S. military intervention in Vietnam developed during the mid-1960's, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights movement/anti-war activist Paul Robeson expressed support for the Vietnamese people's struggle for national independence from foreign domination and full self-determination rights; and he also opposed the U.S. government's policy of providing military aid and militarily intervening in Vietnam in order to perpetuate foreign domination of that country. In an October 4, 1953 speech in Chicago to the Convention of the National Negro Labor Council, for example, Robeson said the following:

"...Will dropping some bombs on Vietnamese patriots who want to be free of French domination help American Negroes reach a plane of equality with their white fellow-citizens?...To ask the question is to answer it. No!...We must not approve the squandering of billions of American taxpayers' money on the `dirty war' in Indo-China--we must insist that the French rule in France and leave the Vietnamese to govern themselves...What Negroes need, and all America needs, is PEACE..."

And in the March 1954 issue of his Freedom journal, Robeson also wrote the following:

"As I write these lines, the eyes of the world are on a country inhabited by 23 million brown-skinned people...It's a fertile land, rich, in minerals; but all the wealth is taken away by the foreign rulers, and the people are poor.

"I'm talking about Vietnam...

"Vast quantities of U.S. bombers, tanks and guns have been sent against Ho Chi Minh and his freedom-fighters; and American GIs into Indo-China in order that the tin, rubber and tungsten of Southeast Asia be kept by the `free world---meaning White Imperialism...

"That's the picture, and I ask again: Shall Negro sharecroppers from Mississippi be sent to shoot down brown-skinned peasants in Vietnam--to serve the interests of those who oppose Negro liberation at home and colonial freedom abroad?

"What are our Negro leaders saying about this? They are all too silent...

"Today, more than ever, is the time for plain speaking.

"Peace can be won if we demand it. The imperialists can be halted in their tracks..." 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Paul Robeson Spoke Out In Support of ANC's Anti-Apartheid Campaign In 1953

In an April 13, 1953 statement, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson expressed solidarity with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa (over 30 years before a mass-based anti-apartheid student campaign for U.S. university divestment of its stock in U.S. corporations that invested in South Africa developed on many U.S. campuses) by saying the following:

"We Colored Americans will especially want to support our African brothers and sisters in South Africa who are now being jailed by the Malan Government for peacefully resisting segregation and discrimination..."

Friday, January 6, 2017

Paul Robeson's December 1952 Letter Revisited

In a December 1952 letter, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson wrote the following:

"...For the past several years a vicious effort has been made to destroy my career. Hall-owners, sponsors and even audiences have been intimidated. Recently, in Chicago, 15,000 persons who wanted to attend one of my concerts had to assemble in a park because the hall-owner had been threatened.

"The outrageous denial of my passport bars me from accepting contracts to appear in England, France, China and many other lands.

"Although I have recorded for nearly every major recording company and sold millions of records both here and abroad, these companies refuse to produce any new recordings for me.

"What is the meaning of this? It is an attempt to gag artistic expression, to dictate whom the people shall hear and what they shall hear. It is an attempt to suppress not only one, but every artist, Negro and white, whose heart and talent are enlisted in the fight for peace and democracy..."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Paul Robeson's July 1952 `Freedom' Journal Article Revisited

In the July 1952 issue of his Freedom journal publication, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson wrote the following:

"The Council on African Affairs called a press conference the other day. It has to do with the present disobedience campaign in South Africa in particular...

"Now, whatever our difficulties and disabilities, the South Africans are even more fiercely oppressed. Pass laws, curfew laws, unbelievable conditions in housing, jobs, all the stigmas of segregation in stations, public places, stores, and so forth.

"So what do they do?...

"They declared on April 6th [1952] their determination to oppose the new oppressive laws--and it started on June 26th [1952]. They refuse to obey Jim Crow and submit to arrest at this stage. Just imagine if we started something like that in the South--or even in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and Los Angeles...

"These South Africans aren't afraid of baiting. They march in thousands with raised clenched fists. They sing their songs of protest...

"And finally, these Africans realize that the old political parties (the so-called Liberals and Conservatives, equivalents of our Democratic and Republican Parties) serve the interests of those who rule, who own. They do not and cannot serve the masses of the people, Black or white. So they have had to form their own Congress and look forward to their own party, springing from themselves and serving the people..."