In the middle of the past century, in the United States arose the African-American Civil Rights Movement. A protest song We Shall Overcome became an anthem of this movement. Analyzing a book of T. V. Reed, we can notice that the possible criteria for what makes the protest music powerful are its not profitable nature and interest of the common goods.
Reed says that music, playing the strategic and tactical role, help paralyzing the fears (28). As the songs were the organizing tool helped African-Americans to form their communities, in XX century, people used this instrument in order to get their civil rights.
Obviously, the ideas that can be hardly said that can be easily sung by thousands of people. Music is a helpful tool that absolutely corresponded to the tactic of non-violence protest. For African-Americans, music had always been a part of religion, the most helpful tool to express the feelings and emotions.
Therefore, they used this instrument of engagement in order to connect people, unite them for the common good and to claim the resentment and hopes. A specific of this music proclaims the dominant position of the common interest over the commercial benefits. As a united element, the protest music helps people realize their identity and use their voices as an instrument of resistance.
Reed cites the line from the song We Shall Overcome: “Deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome some day” in order to show how the individualized statement of the beginning transforms, getting the collective sense (32-33). Another important criterion of Reed’s analysis is a freedom as the basic idea of the protest songs. The line “we shall all be free” is a confirmation of this statement. It is the tradition has its roots in a history of the United States and the relationships between white and black populations.
Using the word freedom instead of equality, the protestors indicate not the legal aspect, but rather the moral attitude. Freedom songs had been a popular way of time spending, pleasure and recreation during the centuries. In the XX century, they transformed into a peaceful weapon. Read emphasizes that “music is not the only force in shaping movement identities, but it clearly was among the most powerful” (33).
We Shall Overcome has a long story of transformation and people’s development. More than hundred years ago, Charles Albert Tindley wrote I’ll Overcome Someday. As an opening and closing melody, Tindley used the song No More Auction Block for Me which is dated to before the Civil War. In 1930s, tobacco works changed it into I Shall Overcome, using this song as a material for teaching the new activists of the labor movement.
During the decades, this song was an example of the non-violence resistance that taught young African-Americans to protect their rights in a peaceful but effective way. In 1960-s, this song became an anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. We Shall Overcome demonstrates that one song can serve as a tool of forming the identity and collectivity. Although music is pleasurable, it is also an important weapon in the movement for the civil rights.
Analyzing the history of the protest music, it is important to indicate that the power of this kind of arts lays in its not profitable nature and interest in the common goods. For instance, the successful example of the We Shall Overcome demonstrates that, being a pleasant time-spending, the particular song can bring people together in order to get the civil rights, integrate them in a one community.
Reed, T. V. The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle, 1st ed. US: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Print.