"THE CENTRAL IMPORTANCE OF SONG TO THE MOVEMENT": FIRST EDITION OF WE SHALL OVERCOME!, WITH OVER 40 CIVIL RIGHTS "FREEDOM SONGS" & 50 ILLUSTRATIONS, MANY FROM PHOTOGRAPHS BY DANNY LYON, ISSUED BY SNCC THE SAME YEAR AS THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON
(LYON, Danny) (LEWIS, John) CARAWAN, Guy and CARAWAN, Candie. We Shall Overcome! Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement… Compiled by Guy and Candie Carawan for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. (New York): Oak, (1963). Octavo, original photographic wrappers; pp. 112. $1050.
First edition, first printing, of one of the first and most influential works issued by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), with over 40 songs & over 50 photographic illustrations, many by Danny Lyon, whose powerful images of young black activists and ordinary men and women affirm that "every person in the ranks of the movement had already achieved a revolution."
"That the Civil Rights Movement was a singing movement cannot be denied, and the central importance of song… is probably unprecedented in the history of major social movements in the U.S." (Black Perspective in Music V.3; emphasis in original). Julius Lester, still in his 20s when he co-edited We Shall Overcome!, later wrote of the central role of "freedom songs." African Americans, he said, were "stereotyped as a people who loved to sing, when it would have been more accurate to say that they were a people who had to sing. But in 1960, the private language was discarded. The songs changed too… the freedom songs are not only the musical extension of… spirituals and gospel songs… they are also the creative expression of the community" (Broadside Magazine, emphasis in original). That power is movingly documented in We Shall Overcome!—one of the first and most influential works by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
In 1963, when this was published, future congressman John Lewis, then chairman of SNCC, also made history as a keynote speaker at the March on Washington. Three years earlier, when SNCC became official, its "young activists… heard, for the first time, song leader Guy Carawan's version of We Shall Overcome, his adaptation of the spiritual, I'll Overcome Someday" (Bobetsky, We Shall Overcome, 31-2). We Shall Overcome! contains over 40 songs and over 50 illustrations, including 13 from photographs by Danny Lyon. His images counter a view "of the Civil Rights Movement leadership as exclusively middle class and ministerial." That is especially clear in Lyon's image of a black high school student, Eddie Brown, being carried off by white policemen after a sit-in (17). To Lyon, Eddie Brown has "'a look of beatific serenity on his face'… in Lyon's eyes, the courage and conviction of SNCC workers like Brown… meant that 'every person in the ranks of the movement had already achieved a revolution'" (Matthews, Capturing the South, 166-67).
Julian Bond, who was SNCC's Communications Director at the time, prior to his election to the Georgia House of Representatives and his tenure as chairman of the NAACP, highlights the singular legacy of SNCC, which stood "apart from the civil rights mainstream of the 60s. Its members, its youth and its organizational independence enabled it to remain close to grassroots currents that rapidly escalated the southern movement…Its articulation and advocacy of Black Power redefined the relationship between black Americans and white power. No longer would political equity be considered a privilege; it had become a right" (Monthly Review). First edition, first printing: with no statement of printings on the copyright page. First issue wrappers without "BT 2009"; without "The Day We Marched" and "Soldier Songs" listed later on rear wrapper. Compiled by Guy and Candi Carawan, with contributions by John Lewis, James Farmer, Robert Zellner. Containing over 40 songs with lyrics and music; over 50 black-and-white photographic illustrations including 13 by Danny Lyons. Small hand-lettered bookseller ticket, "SNCC," to lower corner of front wrapper.
Mere trace of edge-wear to bright fragile wrappers. A fine copy.