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We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World

by Stuart Stotts
Illustrated by Terrance Cummings

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
80 pages
ISBN: 9780547182100

Age 11 and older

Stuart Stotts traces the history of the song “We Shall Overcome” in this fascinating account that also offers insight into folk music as a living, ever-changing art form. Glimpses of the song that eventually became “We Shall Overcome” can be found in church hymns from the European tradition and African-influenced music in the form of slave spirituals. A song called “We Will Overcome” emerged on in various forms on the picket lines of the labor movement in the first half of the twentieth century. By the late 1950s it was a staple of union activism, and in the early 1960s the song began to be adapted by singers and organizers in the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout much of its transformative journey—one that continues today as verses are added to fit new causes—the song has reflected social and political movements for change. Many individuals and groups shaped it both musically and lyrically as it has passed from one singer to another, with Pete Seeger, who provides a foreword for this volume, one of the most influential. In addition to source notes and a bibliography that includes recordings and DVDs (a CD is included with the book), Stotts relates two personal stories in an author’s note that speaks to the power of this song as part of the struggle for peace and social justice. (MS) ©2010 Cooperative Children’s Book Center


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