We Shall Overcome

We Shall Overcome became the anthem that set America marching towards racial equality. By tracing the sources of song, this pathbreaking film uncovers the diverse strands of social history which flowed together to form the Civil Rights movement.

Narrated by Harry Belafonte We Shall Overcome begins in an isolated wood frame church deep in the Sea Islands of South Carolina where spirituals like "I Will Overcome" helped blacks endure the long and brutal years of slavery. Veterans of a 1945 tobacco strike in nearby Charleston explain how it seemed natural to make "We Will Overcome" their rallying cry.

At Myles Horton's Highlander Center in Tennessee, white folk singers like Pete Seeger and Guy Carawan first encountered the song from the strikers and changed the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome." These "Peoples' troubadours" began teaching the song to the young activists of the Civil Rights movement. Over historical footage of themselves during the Sixties, the SNCC Freedom Singers. Julian Bond and Andrew Young reminisce about what this song meant during the sit-ins, voter registration drives and protest marches of those heroic years. We hear popular folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary introduce the song to audiences across the country and Joan Baez sing it at the 1963 March on Washington.

The film concludes with an inspiring montage of peace, antinuclear and environmental activists around the world singing "We Shall Overcome." In one moving scene, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa sings the song and adds. "When we sing 'We Shall Overcome,' what we will overcome is injustice, is apartheid, is separation - all that is dehumanizing."

Other films have chronicled the events and personalities of the Civil rights movement; We Shall Overcome goes directly to the unique vision which moved millions. As Bernice Reagon says, "Every time you hear the song...you're talking about people coming together, organizing, so they can transform their lives."

Music and Cultural History
Popular Culture
Civil Rights History

Social Movements and Change


"This extraordinary song remains at the heart of an extraordinary movement and receives here the acclaim it deserves."
-- Washington Post

"A unique film that highlights the linkage between social action and music. If you believe that Eyes on the Prize captured the history of the Civil Rights movement, then you should also own We Shall Overcome."
-- Henry Hampton, Executive Producer, Eyes on the Prize

"One of the few films to trace the cultural origins of the Civil Rights movement."
-- Claybourne Carson, Stanford University

"An excellent study of how American folk culture can provide the songs and symbols around which great social movements define themselves."
-- Ralph Rinzler, Smithsonian Institution

Producers: Jim Brown, Ginger Brown, Harold Levanthal and George Stoney
Director: Jim Brown
Narrator: Harry Belafonte
58 minutes, 1989

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