Mack Lichtman Classification Essay

Charlie Brown has had a lot of rainy days.

Baseball has been around for a century and a half now, and yet we still struggle to define what makes a good or bad manager. We know that Tony La Russa is up there, and we know that Maury Wills is slightly below him. But beyond that, a leader’s virtues are measured by the number of wins he accrues, subtracting the number we expected of him at the end of March. If we’re feeling studious, we might go the extra step of comparing that total to the team’s Pythagorean win expectancy. That’s it. Otherwise, a manager is good if he looks like a manager and didn’t do something that lost the game the night before.

By those standards, the worst manager of all time may very well be one of its longest-tenured: a young round-headed boy by the name of Charlie Brown. Only Connie Mack held the reins longer than Brown, who was first seen running his nameless franchise in 1953 and continued until 2000. Over that time span he lost hundreds of games, often by hundreds of runs, in a demonstration of stubborn, idiotic courage.

It’s easy to glance at the record (2-K, where K is a really big number) and title Charlie Brown the worst manager of all time. But given a life of shoddy treatment, it only seems fair that we examine his legacy a little more closely and attempt that difficult task of discerning exactly how much of his team’s pathetic record can be attributed to his leadership.

It turns out to be no simple task. Despite his worldwide fame and his sizable career, finding detailed records of Brown’s managerial handiwork is an archaeological nightmare. No fewer than 17,897 records exist detailing his life and times, and yet recaps and statistics are rare, and even live footage is limited to choppy, anecdotal evidence.

Without box scores, we can’t measure Brown based on Pythag, and without statistics, we can’t even try to measure the team’s performance against its WAR, as Adam Darowski once suggested. We don’t even have an idea of the league’s playing environment, given that we know less about Brown’s rivals than even his own team. (It would seem, based on the pitches he’s seen to swing through, that most pitchers can throw harder than the batters can handle.) We can only broadly guess at Brown’s skills or habits as a tactician based on what little we know. Please consider the following science inexact.

But first, to understand Charlie Brown, we must understand what he is working with. His baseball team is comprised of the following players:

C: Schroeder
1B: Sherman
2B: Linus
SS: Snoopy
3B: Pig Pen/5
OF: Lucy/Violet/Frieda/Patty (not Peppermint, the other one)
SP: Charlie Brown

Of these, only the two middle infielders can be considered clearly above replacement level, with the corner infielders being enigmatic. The outfield is a disaster. It’s obvious that simple talent is responsible for a sizable portion of the team’s record. But how much?

A manager’s influence can be divided into two realms: in-game tactics and outside-game strategy. The former is what fans generally tend to focus on, because it’s what they see. Clubhouse chemistry is filtered through the media, meetings take place behind closed doors, but everyone can see the safety squeeze that got the potentially-tying run caught in an inning-ending rundown. As we’ll see, with Brown, this is almost the opposite of the truth.

If we can’t discern whether Charlie Brown is a good tactician based on statistics, all we can do is examine the anecdotal evidence to see if he’s a progressive one. Several years ago, Scott McKinney set forth seven principles for the modern sabermetric manager. We’ll compare, slightly out of order.

(Mostly) stop trading bases for outs and Better base stealing: Brown appears to be a conservative manager in both respects. We have no documented evidence of either he or his teammates performing bunts or stealing bases. True, both are technically illegal in the traditional fashion based on Little League rules, but both can also be circumvented. Bunts can be replaced with Baltimore Chops, an easier trick to pull against the slowballs of child pitchers, and bases can still be stolen after the ball has crossed the plate. It’s perhaps surprising that a team so hobbled offensively wouldn’t turn to the productive out to create runs, but other than Snoopy, it’s hard to believe that anyone on the team is a threat on the basepaths. Still, in a common fount for overmanaging, Brown seems to be able to resist temptation, a check mark in his favor.

One troubling contradiction surfaces. Brown in particular committed one of the worst TOOTBLANs of all time on August 20, 1973, getting picked off second after needlessly leading off, robbing Snoopy of the chance to break Babe Ruth’s home run record before Hank Aaron. The play betrays a lack of awareness that could be seen as an indictment on Brown’s entire career, as the essay will prove.

Increased use of platoons and Optimized lineups: Given that he has an eleven-man roster to work with, there’s not much Charlie Brown can do in terms of platooning or pinch-hitting. Only the rarely-seen “5” is on the bench, sometimes spelling Pig Pen at third. Most of the neighborhood’s better athletes, including Peppermint Patty, Jose Peterson, and Roy, all play for other teams. Still, even with the lack of options at his disposal, there’s evidence Brown isn’t optimizing his limited resources.

Rotisserie Category Aging Patterns

by Jeff Zimmerman

Pitcher and hitter speed matters.

Without box scores, it’s difficult to assess Brown’s lineup construction, but we do have some clues, one being the frequency with which Brown himself steps up to the plate with the game on the line and his performance under these situations. Given that Snoopy and Linus are superior hitters, and that even Lucy can hit the ball hard in a Dayan Viciedo kind of way, we are led to assume that Brown is intentionally slotting himself in at the top of the lineup, where he would see the most plate appearances.

As Tango/Lichtman/Dolphin revealed in The Book, a team’s best hitters should be in the one, two, and four holes. Perhaps Brown is unselfishly slotting himself at the less attractive third spot, but it’s difficult to believe that lesser stars like Sherman and Pig Pen wouldn’t be better served getting those twenty extra plate appearances each year.

In terms of pinch-hitting, we have zero data regarding 5’s abilities as a hitter, let alone after the usual deduction of the pinch-hitting role. But he can’t be any worse than Brown, who is perhaps the least clutch hitter who ever lived, constantly striking out when his team needs him most.

It’s been established that clutch hitting is mostly noise at the major league level, where athletes have been hardened and honed over bus rides and minor league cheeseburger dinners, but it’s far more likely to see a kid rattled by pressure situations. There’s nothing wrong with this: I certainly feel that same pressure in my beer league softball games, and we’re all human. But Charlie Brown the manager has to recognize the shortcomings of Charlie Brown the hitter, and he is blind to them. It is an unfortunate mark against him.

Lastly, though McKinney doesn’t mention shifts (his article was published before the trend made a major comeback), we can tuck it into his final rule: Improve decision making processes on who plays where and when. Defensively, the team is horrendous, particularly in the outfield, where the girls (Lucy, Frieda, Patty, and Violet) rotate. Their defensive positioning is often suboptimal, with Lucy and Patty often standing near each other to chat and leaving poor Frieda to cover half the field.

Not that it matters much; none of them can catch a fly ball, making their position of choice an unfortunate one. Given that Brown is an extreme flyball pitcher (well, an extreme line drive pitcher, really, but with the remainder hit in the air rather than on the ground), the defensive setup looks as dangerous as the current Padres outfield in Petco, if not slightly worse.

We don’t see Pig Pen and Sherman make plays often, so it’s hard to say what they bring defensively. The defensive spectrum is different in Little League anyway: having a first baseman who can catch, and ensure the easiest outs, is no small matter. Still, even if Pig Pen was immobilized by his own dirt at the hot corner, it’s unquestionable that Linus’s talents are wasted at the keystone. Having often displayed a propensity for catching the most difficult pop flies, he belongs in center, and it’s a damning fact that Brown fails to put him there. But as we’ll see, Linus is a major problem for Brown in general.

Finally, we look at pitching, and what we find is that Brown has the slowest hook in managerial history. After a few years behind the dish early in his career, Brown took over primary duties on the mound for his team and put up the sort of lines that would make Dee P. Gordon cringe. And yet despite losing games by the dozens, and by dozens of runs, Brown never sees fit to make a change. It would be easy enough to chalk this up as necessity, and perhaps envy the al dente arm that can hold up so many pitches each season, if not for this:

Sustaining a rare injury, the team is forced to move Linus to the mound, and the improvement is immediate. Like a Super Schumaker, Linus turns out to be a phenom, and the team’s turnaround is dramatic. Brown can only watch from the bench while Linus pitches his team to an unimaginable plurality of victories. But when Brown heals, Linus is moved back to second, and the team reverts.

This draws us into a dark recess of Brown’s psyche, the root of his failing. So often in his extracurricular pursuits, we identify with Brown as the hopeless and yet hopeful everyman, whose virtues are seen not in success but in his reaction to defeat. Yet that ordinary nobility becomes twisted when we see the lengths to which Brown will go to wallow in it, bringing down his team on himself. The virtuous Linus feels guilt at taking Brown’s role, and off-camera, this guilt seems to get the best of him. But based on the evidence we have at hand, keeping Linus at second is either an indifference to winning or a disturbing display of selfishness. Either way, it’s an unforgivable managerial sin.

In considering managers, fans tend to overemphasize their on-field role, because that’s what they see. Of course, this is exactly where they’re least vital. The occasional run thrown away by bad tactics is far outweighed by the day-to-day training, preparation and repair work that are all part of a manager’s job. Interactions with the general manager are classified information; closed-door meetings naturally take place behind closed doors. But with Charlie Brown, it’s much the opposite: we’re given far more access to his interactions with the ballclub on the practice field than we are during the game.

Brown might charitably be called a “player’s manager,” though this is perhaps not by choice. His personality doesn’t seem to align well with leadership roles: he is plagued by self-doubt, courts moderation to the point of being called wishy-washy, and doesn’t wield a particularly overwhelming charisma. He’s a psychiatrist’s nightmare: he internalizes the pain of losing in the exact opposite fashion one would expect. Often he laments how thankless the job is. And yet it’s Manager of the Year, not MVP, that he covets, and he’s the first to the field – even before the snow melts – and the last kid out of the rainstorm. He is driven, although it’s hard to tell by what.

Certainly, it’s not fellowship. Brown’s teammates treat him at best with disregard and more often with outright disdain. His seemingly innocent efforts to drill the team on fundamentals, sorely lacking, regularly are met with outright mutiny. Given the number of dropped fly balls, Brown’s failure to incentivize practice hurts the team badly. At such a low level, one could argue that this is the single most important aspect of a manager’s job: development. But the team does not develop. Is it the players, or is it the coach?

Many of a big league manager’s off-field tasks are inapplicable in our case: Brown does not have to work with a general manager, has no say over transactions, rarely deals with injury or training staffs, and never has to explain his losses to the media.

One criticism that might be drawn is the fact that we never see him preparing his players for their particular opponents, working with Schroeder regarding which pitches will fool which hitters or how the outfield should shade in different situations. “Back up!” is the extent of his master plan, though not a bad one. But it’s difficult to imagine Brown being able to build up any real scouting database anyway, with no extra bench help to collect the information. Besides, given his team, perhaps “back up” is all that’s necessary.

Occasionally, when Brown is sick or absent, the team wins in his absence, but we’re not really told why. However, we get an extended look at a hot-tempered, Weaverian Snoopy coaching the team, and the team fails to respond to him, either. Patty has better luck in her one brief stint, but this is as much for the talent (including herself) that she brings on with her.

Brown’s case is an extreme version of Gene Mauch, a manager’s purgatory: forced to run the same bad ballclub with its same lousy players, over and over, for 50 years. At some point you’d expect desperation to force a change in Charlie’s style, but that’s simply one of his foibles: a good-spirited resistance to change or improvement. How can we criticize the manager for failing to change when his team is similarly static? Is he not simply a product of his environment?

What’s perhaps strangest of all is that, despite his complete lack of support, his grip on the job never falters. Brown must be doing something right, because not even hundred-run losses can drive his crew to mutiny. Managing is tough, but not so tough that someone as naturally bossy as Lucy can’t dream of running the show. And yet she never whispers about it.

The team does literally quit on him occasionally – and he occasionally quits on them. You expect some friction in every 50-year relationship. Perhaps the team has settled into its natural state of defeat, with players and managers happy to blame and be blamed, respectfully. Or perhaps they’ve settled in a natural state, and  a better manager might be able to create a winning culture and the happy chemistry that goes along with it.

Is Charlie Brown a terrible manager? Yes. He’s no great tactician and no great leader, and his team’s record would make the Cleveland Spiders grateful. His blindness toward his own lack of talent, and the fact that he allows himself to overshadow Linus, his second-best player, are nearly villainous. He provides zero inspiration and often loses crucial games single-handedly. There’s no question he loves the game and works hard, but his refusal to innovate or even to mix things up is criminal on a losing ballclub. He really does deserve the criticism so often lobbed at him by his players.

And yet, Brown’s team is embodied by the same virtue that distinguished Brown himself: the ability to get back up. No matter how bad things get, they keep playing baseball. He is, in a way, his team’s effigy: he draws out the sins of his players and bands them together in their opposition. The fact that Lucy, Patty, Violet and Frieda keep jogging out to that outfield, keep chasing after home run balls with no fence to stop them, is a minor miracle in itself. They complain about losing, but they seem happy to continue doing it. As someone who spent several seasons managing a bar-league softball team, I can attest to this: getting nine adults to show up at a baseball field at a given time is no small task, and Brown does it with eight-year-olds, every summer, for 50 years. It’s not nothing. It’s actually kind of amazing, in a way.

References & Resources

  • Cameron, Dave. “If Someone Has a Good Way to Measure Managers, Please Let Us Know”. Just a Bit Outside, 6 September 2014.
  • Darowski, Adam. “Manager Wins Above Expectancy”. Beyond the Box Score, 28 March 2012.
  • Granillo, Larry. “Calculating Charlie Brown’s Wins, Losses, & Other Stats: The 1950s”. Wezen-Ball, 12 January 2010.
  • McKinney, Scott. “The Definitive Sabermetric Guide to Managing”. Just a Bit Outside, 14 April 2011.
  • Schulz, Charles. Peanuts Treasury. Barnes & Noble, 2000.
  • Tango, Tom, Michael Lichtman, & Andrew Dolphin. The Book. Potomac Books, 2007.

This article is about the protest song. For other uses, see We Shall Overcome (disambiguation).

"We Shall Overcome" is a gospel song which became a protest song and a key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song is most commonly attributed as being lyrically descended from "I'll Overcome Some Day", a hymn by Charles Albert Tindley that was first published in 1900.[1][2]

The modern version of the song was first said to have been sung by tobacco workers led by Lucille Simmons during a 1945 strike in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1947, the song was published under the title "We Will Overcome" in an edition of the People's Songs Bulletin (a publication of People's Songs, an organization of which Pete Seeger was the director), as a contribution of and with an introduction by Zilphia Horton, then-music director of the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, Tennessee (an adult education school that trained union organizers). Horton said she had learned the song from Simmons, and she considered it to be her favorite song. She taught it to many others, including Pete Seeger,[3] who included it in his repertoire, as did many other activist singers, such as Frank Hamilton and Joe Glazer, who recorded it in 1950.

The song became associated with the Civil Rights Movement from 1959, when Guy Carawan stepped in with his and Seeger's version as song leader at Highlander, which was then focused on nonviolent civil rights activism. It quickly became the movement's unofficial anthem. Seeger and other famous folksingers in the early 1960s, such as Joan Baez, sang the song at rallies, folk festivals, and concerts in the North and helped make it widely known. Since its rise to prominence, the song, and songs based on it, have been used in a variety of protests worldwide.

The U.S. copyright of the People's Songs Bulletin issue which contained "We Will Overcome" expired in 1976, but The Richmond Organization asserted a copyright on the "We Shall Overcome" lyrics, registered in 1960. In 2017, in response to a lawsuit against TRO over allegations of false copyright claims, a U.S. judge issued an opinion that the registered work was insufficiently different from the "We Will Overcome" lyrics that had fallen into the public domain because of non-renewal. In January 2018, the company agreed to a settlement under which it would no longer assert any copyright claims over the song.

Origins as a gospel, folk, and labor song[edit]

"I'll Overcome Some Day" was a hymn or gospel music composition by the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley of Philadelphia that was first published in 1900.[4] A noted minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Tindley was the author of approximately 50 gospel hymns, of which "We'll Understand It By and By" and "Stand By Me" are among the best known. The published text bore the epigraph, "Ye shall overcome if ye faint not", derived from Galatians 6:9: "And let us not be weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." The first stanza began:

The world is one great battlefield,
With forces all arrayed;
If in my heart I do not yield,
I'll overcome some day.

Tindley's songs were written in an idiom rooted in African American folk traditions, using pentatonic intervals, with ample space allowed for improvised interpolation, the addition of "blue" thirds and sevenths, and frequently featuring short refrains in which the congregation could join.[5] Tindley's importance, however, was primarily as a lyricist and poet whose words spoke directly to the feelings of his audiences, many of whom had been freed from slavery only 36 years before he first published his songs, and were often impoverished, illiterate, and newly arrived in the North.[6] "Even today," wrote musicologist Horace Boyer in 1983, "ministers quote his texts in the midst of their sermons as if they were poems, as indeed they are."[7]

A letter printed on the front page of the February 1909, United Mine Workers Journal states: "Last year at a strike, we opened every meeting with a prayer, and singing that good old song, 'We Will Overcome'." This statement implied that the song was well-known, and it was also the first acknowledgement of such a song having been sung in both a secular context and a mixed-race setting.[8][9][10]

Tindley's "I'll Overcome Some Day" was believed to have influenced the structure for "We Shall Overcome",[8] with both the text and the melody having undergone a process of alteration. The tune has been changed so that it now echoes the opening and closing melody of "No More Auction Block For Me",[11] also known from its refrain as "Many Thousands Gone".[12] This was number 35 in Thomas Wentworth Higginson's collection of Negro Spirituals that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly of June 1867, with a comment by Higginson reflecting on how such songs were composed (i.e., whether the work of a single author or through what used to be called "communal composition"):

Even of this last composition, however, we have only the approximate date and know nothing of the mode of composition. Allan Ramsay says of the Scots Songs, that, no matter who made them, they were soon attributed to the minister of the parish whence they sprang. And I always wondered, about these, whether they had always a conscious and definite origin in some leading mind, or whether they grew by gradual accretion, in an almost unconscious way. On this point I could get no information, though I asked many questions, until at last, one day when I was being rowed across from Beaufort to Ladies' Island, I found myself, with delight, on the actual trail of a song. One of the oarsmen, a brisk young fellow, not a soldier, on being asked for his theory of the matter, dropped out a coy confession. "Some good spirituals," he said, "are start jess out o' curiosity. I been a-raise a sing, myself, once."

My dream was fulfilled, and I had traced out, not the poem alone, but the poet. I implored him to proceed. "Once we boys," he said, "went for to tote some rice, and de nigger-driver, he keep a-callin' on us; and I say, 'O, de ole nigger-driver!' Den another said, 'First thing my mammy told me was, notin' so bad as a nigger-driver.' Den I made a sing, just puttin' a word, and den another word." Then he began singing, and the men, after listening a moment, joined in the chorus as if it were an old acquaintance, though they evidently had never heard it before. I saw how easily a new "sing" took root among them.[13]

Coincidentally, Bob Dylan claims that he used the very same melodic motif from "No More Auction Block" for his composition, "Blowin' in the Wind".[14] Thus similarities of melodic and rhythmic patterns imparted cultural and emotional resonance ("the same feeling") towards three different, and historically very significant songs.

Music scholars have also pointed out that the first half of "We Shall Overcome" bears a notable resemblance to the famous lay Catholic hymn "O Sanctissima", also known as "The Sicilian Mariners Hymn", first published by a London magazine in 1792 and then by an American magazine in 1794 and widely circulated in American hymnals.[15][16][17][18][19] The second half of "We Shall Overcome" is essentially the same music as the 19th-century hymn "I'll Be All Right"[20] and it bears a close resemblance to the aria Caro Mio Ben, attributed to Neapolitan composer Tommaso Giordani or Giuseppe Giordani; this is another late 18th-century Italian song that became a staple of 19th-century singers.[21] As Victor Bobetsky summarized in his 2015 book on the subject: "'We Shall Overcome' owes its existence to many ancestors and to the constant change and adaptation that is typical of the folk music process."[15]

Role of the Highlander Folk School[edit]

In October 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina, members of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers union (FTA-CIO), who were mostly female and African American, began a five-month strike against the American Tobacco Company. To keep up their spirits during the cold, wet winter of 1945–1946, one of the strikers, a woman named Lucille Simmons, led a slow "long meter style" version of the gospel hymn, "We'll Overcome (I'll Be All Right)" to end each day's picketing. Union organizer Zilphia Horton, who was the wife of the co-founder of the Highlander Folk School (later Highlander Research and Education Center), said she learned it from Simmons. Horton was Highlander's music director during 1935–1956, and it became her custom to end group meetings each evening by leading this, her favorite song. During the presidential campaign of Henry A. Wallace, "We Will Overcome" was printed in Bulletin No. 3 (September 1948), 8, of People's Songs, with an introduction by Horton saying that she had learned it from the interracial FTA-CIO workers and had found it to be extremely powerful. Pete Seeger, a founding member of People's Songs and its director for three years, learned it from Horton's version in 1947.[22] Seeger writes: "I changed it to 'We shall'... I think I liked a more open sound; 'We will' has alliteration to it, but 'We shall' opens the mouth wider; the 'i' in 'will' is not an easy vowel to sing well [...]."[3] Seeger also added some verses ("We'll walk hand in hand" and "The whole wide world around").

In 1950, the CIO's Department of Education and Research released the album, Eight New Songs for Labor, sung by Joe Glazer ("Labor's Troubador"), and the Elm City Four. (Songs on the album were: "I Ain't No Stranger Now," "Too Old to Work," "That's All," "Humblin' Back," "Shine on Me," "Great Day," "The Mill Was Made of Marble," and "We Will Overcome".) During a Southern CIO drive, Glazer taught the song to country singer Texas Bill Strength, who cut a version that was later picked up by 4-Star Records.[23]

The song made its first recorded appearance as "We Shall Overcome" (rather than "We Will Overcome") in 1952 on a disc recorded by Laura Duncan (soloist) and The Jewish Young Singers (chorus), conducted by Robert De Cormier, co-produced by Ernie Lieberman and Irwin Silber on Hootenany Records (Hoot 104-A) (Folkways, FN 2513, BCD15720), where it is identified as a Negro Spiritual.

Frank Hamilton, a folk singer from California who was a member of People's Songs and later The Weavers, picked up Seeger's version. Hamilton's friend and traveling companion, fellow-Californian Guy Carawan, learned the song from Hamilton. Carawan and Hamilton, accompanied by Ramblin Jack Elliot, visited Highlander in the early 1950s where they also would have heard Zilphia Horton sing the song. In 1957, Seeger sang for a Highlander audience that included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who remarked on the way to his next stop, in Kentucky, about how much the song had stuck with him. When, in 1959, Guy Carawan succeeded Horton as music director at Highlander, he reintroduced it at the school. It was the young (many of them teenagers) student-activists at Highlander, however, who gave the song the words and rhythms for which it is currently known, when they sang it to keep their spirits up during the frightening police raids on Highlander and their subsequent stays in jail in 1959–1960. Because of this, Carawan has been reluctant to claim credit for the song's widespread popularity. In the PBS video We Shall Overcome, Julian Bond credits Carawan with teaching and singing the song at the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1960. From there, it spread orally and became an anthem of Southern African American labor union and civil rights activism.[24] Seeger has also publicly, in concert, credited Carawan with the primary role of teaching and popularizing the song within the Civil Rights Movement.

Use in the 1960s civil rights and other protest movements[edit]

In August 1963, 22-year old folksinger Joan Baez, led a crowd of 300,000 in singing "We Shall Overcome" at the Lincoln Memorial during A. Philip Randolph's March on Washington. President Lyndon Johnson, himself a Southerner, used the phrase "we shall overcome" in addressing Congress on March 15, 1965,[25] in a speech delivered after the violent, "Bloody Sunday" attacks on civil rights demonstrators during the Selma to Montgomery marches, thus legitimizing the protest movement.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recited the words from "We Shall Overcome" in his final sermon delivered in Memphis on Sunday, March 31, 1968, before his assassination.[26] He had done so in a similar sermon delivered in 1965 before an interfaith congregation at Temple Israel in Hollywood, California:[27]

We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right; "no lie can live forever". We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right; "truth crushed to earth will rise again". We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right:.

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the then unknown
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day. And in the words of prophecy, every valley shall be exalted. And every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This will be a great day. This will be a marvelous hour. And at that moment—figuratively speaking in biblical words—the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy[28]

"We Shall Overcome" was sung days later by over fifty thousand attendees at Dr. King's funeral.[29]

Farmworkers in the United States later sang the song in Spanish during the strikes and grape boycotts of the late 1960s.[30] The song was notably sung by the U.S.Senator for New YorkRobert F. Kennedy, when he led anti-Apartheid crowds in choruses from the rooftop of his car while touring South Africa in 1966.[31] It was also the song which Abie Nathan chose to broadcast as the anthem of the Voice of Peace radio station on October 1, 1993, and as a result it found its way back to South Africa in the later years of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.[32]

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association adopted "we shall overcome" as a slogan and used it in the title of its retrospective publication, We Shall Overcome – The History of the Struggle for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland 1968–1978.[33][34] The film Bloody Sunday depicts march leader and MPIvan Cooper leading the song shortly before 1972's Bloody Sunday shootings. In 1997, the Christian men's ministry, Promise Keepers featured the song on its worship CD for that year: The Making of a Godly Man, featuring worship leader Donn Thomas and the Maranatha! Promise Band. Bruce Springsteen's re-interpretation of the song was included on the 1998 tribute album Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger as well as on Springsteen's 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

Widespread adaptation[edit]

"We Shall Overcome" was adopted by various labor, nationalist, and political movements both during and after the Cold War. In his memoir about his years teaching English in Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution, Mark Allen wrote:

In Prague in 1989, during the intense weeks of the Velvet Revolution, hundreds of thousands of people sang this haunting music in unison in Wenceslas Square, both in English and in Czech, with special emphasis on the phrase 'I do believe.' This song's message of hope gave protesters strength to carry on until the powers-that-be themselves finally gave up hope themselves.

In the Prague of 1964, Seeger was stunned to find himself being whistled and booed by crowds of Czechs when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. But those same crowds had loved and adopted his rendition of 'We Shall Overcome.' History is full of such ironies – if only you are willing to see them.

— 'Prague Symphony', Praha Publishing, 2008[citation needed]

The melody was also used (crediting it to Tindley) in a symphony by American composer William Rowland.[citation needed] In 1999, National Public Radio included "We Shall Overcome" on the "NPR 100" list of most important American songs of the 20th century.[35] As a reference to the line, on January 20, 2009, after the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, a man holding the banner, "WE HAVE OVERCOME" was seen near the Capitol, a day after hundreds of people posed with the sign on Martin Luther King Jr. day.[36]

As the attempted serial killer "Lasermannen" shot several immigrants around Stockholm in 1992, Prime Minister Carl Bildt and Immigration Minister Birgit Friggebo attended a meeting in Rinkeby. As the audience became upset, Friggebo tried to calm them down by proposing that everyone sing "We Shall Overcome." This statement is widely regarded as one of the most embarrassing moments in Swedish politics. In 2008, the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet listed the Sveriges Television recording of the event as the best political clip available on YouTube.[37]

On June 7, 2010, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame, released a new version of the song as a protest against the Israeli blockade of Gaza.[38]

On July 22, 2012, Bruce Springsteen performed the song during the memorial-concert in Oslo after the terrorist attacks in Norway on July 22, 2011.

In India, the renowned poet Girija Kumar Mathur composed its literal translation in Hindi "Hum Honge Kaamyab (हम होगें कामयाब)" which became a popular patriotic/spiritual song during the 1970s and 80s, particularly in schools.[39]

In Bengali-speaking India and Bangladesh, there are two versions, both of which are popular among school-children and political activists. "Amra Korbo Joy" (আমরা করবো জয়, a literal translation) was translated by the Bengali folk singer Hemanga Biswas and re-recorded by Bhupen Hazarika. Another version, translated by Shibdas Bandyopadhyay, "Ek Din Shurjer Vor" (এক দিন সূর্যের ভোর, literally translated as "One Day The Sun Will Rise") was recorded by the Calcutta Youth Choir and arranged by Ruma Guha Thakurta during the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence and it became one of the largest selling Bengali records. It was a favorite of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and it was regularly sung at public events after Bangladesh gained its independence in the early 1970s.[citation needed]

In the Indian State of Kerala, the traditional Communist stronghold, the song became popular on college campuses during the late 1970s. It was the struggle song of the Students Federation of India SFI, the largest student organisation in the country. The song translated to the regional language Malayalam by N. P. Chandrasekharan, an activist for SFI. The translation followed the same tune of the original song, as "Nammal Vijayikkum". Later it was also published in Student, the monthly of SFI in Malayalam as well as in Sarvadesheeya Ganangal (Mythri Books, Thiruvananthapuram), a translation of international struggle songs.

"We Shall Overcome" was a prominent song in the 2010 Bollywood filmMy Name is Khan, which compared the struggle of Muslims in modern America with the struggles of African Americans in the past. The song was sung in both English and Urdu in the film, which starred Shahrukh Khan.

Copyright status[edit]

The copyright status of "We Shall Overcome" was disputed in the late-2010s. A copyright registration was made for the song in 1960, which is credited as an arrangement by Zilphia Horton, Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton, and Pete Seeger, of a work entitled "I'll Overcome", with no known original author.[8] Horton's heirs, Carawan, Hamilton, and Seeger share the artists' half of the rights, and The Richmond Organization (TRO), which includes Ludlow Music, Essex, Folkways Music, and Hollis Music, holds the publishers' rights, to 50% of the royalty earnings. Seeger explained that he registered the copyright under the advice of TRO, who showed concern that someone else could register it. "At that time we didn't know Lucille Simmons' name", Seeger said.[40] Their royalties go to the "We Shall Overcome" Fund, administered by Highlander under the trusteeship of the "writers". Such funds are purportedly used to give small grants for cultural expression involving African Americans organizing in the U.S. South.[41]

In April 2016, the We Shall Overcome Foundation (WSOF), led by music producer Isaias Gamboa, sued TRO and Ludlow, seeking to have the copyright status of the song clarified and the return of all royalties collected by the companies from its usage. The WSOF, which was working on a documentary about the song and its history, were denied permission to use the song by TRO-Ludlow. The filing argued that TRO-Ludlow's copyright claims were invalid because the registered copyright had not been renewed as required by United States copyright law at the time; because of this, the copyright of the 1948 People's Songs publication containing "We Will Overcome" had expired in 1976. Additionally, it was argued that the registered copyrights only covered specific arrangements of the tune and "obscure alternate verses", that the registered works "did not contain original works of authorship, except to the extent of the arrangements themselves", and that no record of a work entitled "I'll Overcome" existed in the database of the United States Copyright Office.[8]

The suit acknowledged that Seeger himself had not claimed to be an author of the song, stating of the song in his autobiography, "No one is certain who changed 'will' to 'shall.' It could have been me with my Harvard education. But Septima Clarke, a Charleston schoolteacher (who was director of education at Highlander and after the Civil Rights Movement was elected year after year to the Charleston, S.C. Board of Education) always preferred 'shall.' It sings better." He also reaffirmed that the decision to copyright the song was a defensive measure, with his publisher apparently warning him that "if you don't copyright this now, some Hollywood types will have a version out next year like 'Come on Baby, We shall overcome tonight'". Furthermore, the liner notes of Seeger's compilation album If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope & Struggle contained a summary on the purported history of the song, stating that "We Shall Overcome" was "probably adapted from the 19th-century hymn, 'I'll Be All Right'", and that "I'll Overcome Some Day" was a "possible source" and may have originally been adapted from "I'll Be All Right".[42]

Gamboa has historically shown interest in investigating the origins of "We Shall Overcome";[8] in a book entitled We Shall Overcome: Sacred Song On The Devil's Tongue, he notably disputed the song's claimed origins and copyright registration with an alternate theory, suggesting that "We Shall Overcome" was actually derived from "If My Jesus Wills", a hymn by Louise Shropshire that had been composed in the 1930s and had its copyright registered in 1954.[43][44] The WSOF lawsuit did not invoke this alternate history, focusing instead on the original belief that the song stemmed from "We Will Overcome".[8][42] The lawyer backing Gamboa's suit, Mark C. Rifkin, was previously involved in a case that invalidated copyright claims over the song "Happy Birthday to You".[45]

On September 8, 2017, Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York issued an opinion that there were insufficient differences between the first verse of the "We Shall Overcome" lyrics registered by TRO-Ludlow, and the "We Will Overcome" lyrics from People's Songs (specifically, the aforementioned replacement of "will" with "shall", and changing "down in my heart" to "deep in my heart") for it to qualify as a distinct derivative work eligible for its own copyright.[46][47]

On January 26, 2018, TRO-Ludlow agreed to a final settlement, under which it would accept the district court's opinion that it did not own a valid copyright to the melody and first verse of "We Shall Overcome", and that it would no longer assert any of its copyright claims to the remaining verses of the song.[48][49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Bobetsky, Victor (2014). "The complex ancestry of "We Shall Overcome"". Choral Journal. 57: 26–36. 
  2. ^Lynskey, Dorian (2011). 33 revolutions per minute. London, UK: Faber & Faber. p. 33. ISBN 978-0061670152. 
  3. ^ abSeeger, Pete (1997). Where Have All The Flowers Gone – A Musical Autobiography. Bethlehem, PA: Sing Out. ISBN 1881322106. 
  4. ^Tindley, C. Albert (1900). "I'll Overcome Some Day". New Songs of the Gospel. Philadelphia: Hall-Mack Co. 
  5. ^Horace Clarence Boyer, "Charles Albert Tindley: Progenitor of Black-American Gospel Music", The Black Perspective in Music 11: No. 2 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 103–132.
  6. ^Boyer, [1983], p. 113. "Tindley was a composer for whom the lyrics constituted its major element; while the melody and were handled with care, these elements were regarded as subservient to the text."
  7. ^Boyer (1983), p. 113.
  8. ^ abcdefGraham, David A. "Who Owns 'We Shall Overcome'?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  9. ^"Lawyers who won Happy Birthday copyright case sue over "We Shall Overcome"". Ars Technica. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  10. ^The United Mine Workers was racially integrated from its founding and was notable for having a large black presence, particularly in Alabama and West Virginia. The Alabama branch, whose membership was three quarters black, in particular, met with fierce, racially based resistance during a strike in 1908 and was crushed. See Daniel Letwin, "Interracial Unionism, Gender, and Social Equality in the Alabama Coalfields, 1878–1908", The Journal of Southern History LXI: 3 (August 1955): 519–554.
  11. ^James Fuld tentatively attributes the change to the version by Atron Twigg and Kenneth Morris. See James J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (noted by Wallace and Wallechinsky)1966; New York: Dover, 1995). According to Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of North America, "No More Auction Block For Me" originated in Canada and it was sung by former slaves who fled there after Britain abolished slavery in 1833.
  12. ^Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History, Second Edition (Norton, 1971): 546-47, 159-60.
  13. ^Higginson, Thomas Wentworth (June 1867). "Negro Spirituals". The Atlantic Monthly. 19 (116): 685–694. 
  14. ^From the sleeve notes to Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3" - " was Pete Seeger who first identified Dylan's adaptation of the melody of this song ["No More Auction Block"] for the composition of "Blowin' in the Wind". Indeed, Dylan himself was to admit the debt in 1978, when he told journalist Marc Rowland: "Blowin' in the Wind" has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song called "No More Auction Block" - that's a spiritual, and "Blowin' in the Wind sorta follows the same feeling..."
  15. ^ abBobetsky, Victor V. (2015). We Shall Overcome: Essays on a Great American Song. pp. 1–13. Retrieved October 18, 2016. 
  16. ^Seward, William (November 1792). "Drossiana. Number XXXVIII. The Sicilian Mariner's Hymn to the Virgin". European Magazine. 22 (5): 342, 385–386. Retrieved October 26, 2016. 
  17. ^Shaw, Robert, ed. (May 1794). "Prayer of the Sicilian Mariners". The Gentleman's Amusement: 25. Retrieved October 26, 2016. 
  18. ^Brink, Emily; Polman, Bert, eds. (1988). The Psalter Hymnal Handbook. Retrieved October 18, 2016. 
  19. ^Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Irving, eds. (1978). The People's Almanac #2. pp. 806–809. Retrieved October 18, 2016. 
  20. ^Kytle, Ethan J.; Roberts, Blain (March 15, 2015). "Birth of a Freedom Anthem". The New York Times. 
  21. ^Silk, Mark (May 8, 2015). "Who wrote 'We Shall Overcome'?". Religion News Service. Retrieved October 18, 2016. 
  22. ^Dunaway, 1990, 222–223; Seeger, 1993, 32; see also, Robbie Lieberman, My Song Is My Weapon: People's Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-50 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, [1989] 1995) p.46, p. 185
  23. ^Ronald Cohen and Dave Samuelson, Songs for Political Action: Folkmusic, Topical Songs And the American Left 1926–1953, book published as part of Bear Family Records 10-CD box set issued in Germany in 1996.
  24. ^Dunaway, 1990, 222–223; Seeger, 1993, 32.
  25. ^Lyndon Johnson, speech of March 15, 1965, accessed March 28, 2007 on
  26. ^"A new normal". .
  27. ^"A New Addition to Martin Luther King's Legacy". 
  28. ^From the first King had liked to cite these same inspiration passages. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" is from the writings of Theodore Parker the Unitarian abolitionist minister who was King's favorite theologian. Compare the transcript of this 1957 speech given in Washington, D.C."Give Us the Ballot,". Address Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington D.C. 1957-05-17. .
  29. ^Kotz, Nick (2005). "14. Another Martyr". Judgment days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the laws that changed America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 419. ISBN 0-618-08825-3. 
  30. ^Alan J. Watt (2010). Farm Workers and the Churches: The Movement in California and Texas, Volume 8. Texas A&M University Press. p. 80. ISBN 9781603441933. Retrieved 15 July 2016. 
  31. ^Thomas, Evan. Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 322. ISBN 0-7432-0329-1. 
  32. ^Dunaway ([1981, 1990] 2008) p. 243.
  33. ^CAIN: Civil Rights Association by Bob Purdie
  34. ^CAIN: Events: Civil Rights - "We Shall Overcome" published by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA; 1978)
  35. ^The NPR 100 The most important American musical works of the 20th century
  36. ^"We Have Overcome", Media General. January 20, 2009.
  37. ^Ledarbloggens Youtubiana – hela listan!Svenska Dagbladet, 2 October 2008 (in Swedish)
  38. ^Roger Waters releases “We Shall Overcome” video Floydian Slip, June 7, 2010
  39. ^"Lyrics of Hum Honge Kaamyab (Hindi)". Prayogshala. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  40. ^Seeger, 1993, p. 33
  41. ^Highlander Reports, 2004, p. 3.
  42. ^ ab"WE SHALL OVERCOME FOUNDATION, C.A. No. on behalf of itself and all others similarly situated v. THE RICHMOND ORGANIZATION, INC. (TRO INC.) and LUDLOW MUSIC, INC."(PDF). S.D.N.Y.Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  43. ^"'We Shall Overcome' belongs to Cincinnati". Cincinnati Enquirer. Gannett Company. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  44. ^Gamboa, Isaias; Henry, JoAnne F.; Owen, Audrey (2012). We Shall Overcome: Sacred Song On The Devil's Tongue. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Amapola Publ. ISBN 978-0615475288. 
  45. ^"'Happy Birthday' Legal Team Turns Attention to 'We Shall Overcome'". Billboard. Retrieved April 15, 2016. 
  46. ^"Judge throws out 57-year-old copyright on "We Shall Overcome"". Ars Technica. September 11, 2017. Retrieved September 11, 2017. 
  47. ^Karr, Rick (September 11, 2017). "Federal Judge Rules First Verse Of 'We Shall Overcome' Public Domain". NPR. Retrieved September 11, 2017. 
  48. ^Gardner, Eriq. "Song Publisher Agrees "We Shall Overcome" Is in Public Domain in Legal Settlement". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 26 January 2018. 
  49. ^"Wolf Haldenstein Frees the Copyright to we Shall Overcome, the US's Most Powerful Song". Wolf Haldenstein. Retrieved 3 February 2018. 


  • Dunaway, David, How Can I Keep from Singing: Pete Seeger, (orig. pub. 1981, reissued 1990). Da Capo, New York, ISBN 0-306-80399-2.
  • ___, "The We Shall Overcome Fund". Highlander Reports, newsletter of the Highlander Research and Education Center, August–November 2004, p. 3.
  • We Shall Overcome, PBS Home Video 174, 1990, 58 minutes.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs: Compiled and edited by Guy and Candie Carawan; foreword by Julian Bond (New South Books, 2007), comprising two classic collections of freedom songs: We Shall Overcome (1963) and Freedom Is A Constant Struggle (1968), reprinted in a single edition. The book includes a major new introduction by Guy and Candie Carawan, words and music to the songs, important documentary photographs, and firsthand accounts by participants in the Civil Rights Movement. Available from Highlander Center.
  • We Shall Overcome! Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement: Julius Lester, editorial assistant. Ethel Raim, music editor: Additional musical transcriptions: Joseph Byrd [and] Guy Carawan. New York: Oak Publications, 1963.
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle, compiled and edited by Guy and Candie Carawan. Oak Publications, 1968.
  • Alexander Tsesis, We Shall Overcome: A History of Civil Rights and the Law. Yale University Press, 2008.
  • We Shall Overcome: A Song that Changed the World, by Stuart Stotts, illustrated by Terrance Cummings, foreword by Pete Seeger. New York: Clarion Books, 2010.
  • Sing for Freedom, Folkways Records, produced by Guy and Candie Carawan, and the Highlander Center. Field recordings from 1960–88, with the Freedom Singers, Birmingham Movement Choir, Georgia Sea Island Singers, Doc Reese, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Len Chandler, and many others. Smithsonian-Folkways CD version 1990.
  • We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert, June 8, 1963, Historic Live recording June 8, 1963. 2-disc set, includes the full concert, starring Pete Seeger, with the Freedom Singers, Columbia # 45312, 1989. Re-released 1997 by Sony as a box CD set.
  • Voices Of The Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1966. Box CD set, with the Freedom Singers, Fanny Lou Hammer, and Bernice Johnson Reagon. Smithsonian-Folkways CD ASIN: B000001DJT (1997).
  • Durman, C 2015, ‘We Shall Overcome: Essays on a Great American Song edited by Victor V. Bobetsky’, Music Reference Services Quarterly, vol. 8, iss. 3, pp. 185-187
  • Graham, D 2016, ‘Who Owns ‘We Shall Overcome’?’, The Atlantic, 14 April, accessed 28 April 2017,
  • Clark, B. & Borchert, S 2015, ‘Pete Seeger, Musical Revolutionary’, Monthly Review, vol. 66, no. 8, pp. 20-29

External links[edit]

  • We Shall Overcome on National Public Radio
  • Lyrics
  • Authorized Profile of Guy Carawan with history of the song, "We Shall Overcome" from the Association of Cultural Equity
  • Freedom in the Air: Albany Georgia. 1961-62. SNCC #101. Recorded by Guy Carawan, produced for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee by Guy Carawan and Alan Lomax. "Freedom In the Air ... is a record of the 1961 protest in Albany, Georgia, when, two weeks before Christmas, 737 people brought the town nearly to a halt to force its integration. The record's never been reissued and that's a shame, as it's a moving document of a community through its protest songs, church services, and experiences in the thick of the civil rights struggle."—Nathan Salsburg, host, Root Hog or Die, East Village Radio, January 2007.
  • Susanne´s Folksong-Notizen, excerpts from various articles, liner notes, etc. about "We Shall Overcome".
  • Musical Transcription of "We Shall Overcome," based on a recording of Pete Seeger's version, sung with the SNCC Freedom Singers on the 1963 live Carnegie Hall recording, and the 1988 version by Pete Seeger sung at a reunion concert with Pete and the Freedom Singers on the anthology, Sing for Freedom, recorded in the field 1960-88 and edited and annotated by Guy and Candie Carawan, released in 1990 as Smithsonian-Folkways CD SF 40032.
  • NPR news article including full streaming versions of Pete Seeger's classic 1963 live Carnegie Hall recording and Bruce Springsteen's tribute version.
  • "Pete Seeger & the story of 'We Shall Overcome'" from 1968 interview on The Pop Chronicles.
  • "Something About That Song Haunts You", essay on the history of "We Shall Overcome," Complicated Fun, June 9, 2006.
  • "Howie Richmond Views Craft Of Song: Publishing Giant Celebrates 50 Years As TRO Founder", by Irv Lichtman, Billboard, 8, 28, 1999. Excerpt: "Key folk songs in the [TRO] catalog, as arranged by a number of folklorists, are 'We Shall Overcome,' 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine' 'On Top Of Old Smokey,' 'So Long, It's Been Good To Know You,' 'Goodnight Irene,' 'If I Had A Hammer,' 'Tom Dooley,' and 'Rock Island Line.'"

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