We Shall Overcome (review)

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We Shall Overcome (review)

by Trudier Harris
Southern Cultures, Vol. 1, No. 1: Fall 1994

1/2-inch video, 58 minutes, color. California Newsreel, 149 Ninth Street, No. 420, San Francisco, CA 94103.

As the title suggests, this video focuses on the song that became the anthem of the civil rights movement. The film shows, however, that “We Shall Overcome” has a history in civil struggle that reaches far beyond the 1960s. The film begins with commentary from Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Desmond Tutu, Bernice Reagon, and Julian Bond on the importance and power of the song. Next it moves through a chronological recounting of the song’s value to people struggling in the United States and throughout the world. The history of “We Shall Overcome” is a history of social change, of powerless people confronting insensitive and powerful law enforcement agencies, and of the undauntable element in the human spirit that enables people to work for progress in spite of the oppressive forces arrayed against them.