Tags: guy carawan | dies | folk | singer | civil rights

Guy Carawan Dies: Folk Singer, Civil Rights Activist Was 87

By    |   Friday, 08 May 2015 06:48 PM

Folk singer and civil rights activist Guy Carawan, who brought “We Shall Overcome” to the movement, has died at age 87.

While he didn’t write the words to the well-known song, Carawan made it popular; the Library of Congress has called it “the most powerful song of the 20th century.”

Carawan died Saturday in New Market, Tennessee, his wife, Candie Carawan, told The Los Angeles Times.

The history of the lyrics to “We Shall Overcome” is not completely clear, and while some suggest it came from the hymn “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” others attribute it to composer Louise Shropshire.

Whatever its roots, the song became an important part of civil rights, and Carawan introduced it to the south in the 1960s.

“On an April night in 1960, Guy Carawan stood before a group of black students in Raleigh, N.C., and sang a little-known folk song,” wrote The New York Times in his memory. “With that single stroke, he created an anthem that would echo into history, sung at the Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965, in apartheid-era South Africa, in international demonstrations in support of the Tiananmen Square protesters, at the dismantled Berlin Wall and beyond.”

“It is one of the most powerful, at the same time, sacred moment when we would say ‘we shall overcome,’” Georgia Congressman and civil rights author-advocate John Lewis told NPR in 1999 on an “All Things Considered” documentary. “And especially if you had been beaten, arrested and jailed and thrown into a paddy wagon, thrown into some waiting area and the group just stands there and sings together, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ It gave you a sense of faith, a sense of strength to continue to struggle, to continue to push on. You would lose your sense of fear. You were prepared to march into hell’s fire.” 

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Folk singer and civil rights activist Guy Carawan, who brought "We Shall Overcome" to the movement, has died at age 87.
guy carawan, dies, folk, singer, civil rights
Friday, 08 May 2015 06:48 PM
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