2015 May 2

Folk Singer Guy Carawan Dies; Taught “We Shall Overcome” to Sit-In Leaders


Folk singer and folklorist Guy Carawan, who taught “We Shall Overcome” to leaders of the sit-in movement in 1960, died on this day. Carawan had worked for the Highlander Folk Center since 1959. In the mid-1950s he, Pete Seeger, and two others revised the song “We Will Overcome,” changing some of the lyrics and the title (which was originally “We Will Oversome”). On April 15, 190 at a meeting of sit-in leaders at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Carawan taught them “We Shall Overcome.” The song quickly became the anthem of the civil rights movement.

The Highlander Folk Center was harassed in southern states between the 1930s and 1960s because of the left-wing orientation of its program related to poor people, race discrimination, and labor unions (see, for example, April 6, 1961). Today it is the Highlander Folk and Education Center outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.

In one of the most famous incidents, Rev. Martin Luther King spoke at Highlander Center on September 2, 1957. A photograph of King at the Center is widely cited by anti-Communists that King “attended” a “Communist training school.”

Learn more; songs and memories collected by the Highlander staff: Guy and Candie Carawan, Voices From the Mountains [Life and Struggle in the Appalachian South (1982)

Visit the Highlander Center web site: http://www.highlandercenter.org

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