“We Shall Overcome” as ritual


According to Randi Schmelzer

Even more important, perhaps, it was Carawan who taught those students — and thousands more — how to “do” the song.

“Joining arms, forming a circle, singing ‘We shall overcome’ while your body sways: That’s doing the music together,” explains Roy. It’s that shared experience, he says. “That’s the real power of the music. Its ability to bring people together.”

Armed with the anthem, hundreds of SNCC activists rallied through the segregated South at sit-ins, on picket lines, at demonstrations and marches. Throughout the early ’60s, singing and doing “We Shall Overcome” became a movement ritual, helping to bridge the gap between colors and classes.


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