We Shall Overcome                       Foundation

Cincinnati woman gets her due for civil rights anthem 'We Shall Overcome'

CLOSE In 1962, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Cincinnati to speak at a banquet for friend and fellow civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth. Hotels were filled, so Shuttlesworth, the pastor of Revelation Baptist Church in the West End, turned to his congregation's music minister for help.

with close friend, 
Everything you think you know about "We Shall Overcome", is probably WRONG.

The US Library of Congress has called We Shall Overcome, "The Most Powerful Song of the Twentieth Century", adding; "Word for word, the short, simple lyrics to We Shall Overcome may be some of the most influential words in the English language". 

Sometime between 1932 and 1942, an African American woman named, Louise Shropshire - granddaughter of slaves - authored and published a sacred hymn entitled, "If My Jesus Wills". More commonly known as, "i'll Overcome", Her lyrics read: 

"I'll overcome, I'll overcome, I'll overcome someday
Oh yes, if my Jesus wills, I do believe, I'll overcome someday".

Unbeknownst to Mrs. Shropshire, in 1960 and again in 1963,  Pete Seeger and four other folk singers copyrighted, We Shall Overcome as a derivative work, claiming no known original author. Unbeknownst to Pete Seeger and his associates however, Louise Shropshire copyrighted, If My Jesus Wills in 1954.

Mrs. Shropshire - a close friend of, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,-loaned her inspirational words to him at his request for use during the African American Civil Rights Movement.  Mrs. Shropshire felt great joy in knowing that her sacred song was used to inspire the freedom song, We Shall Overcome. In 1993 on her deathbed, Mrs. Shropshire spoke her final words to her grandson, Robert A. Goins Shropshire, "Someday, somebody's gonna do somethin' with all my music". 

Louise's grandson would eventually secure the help of former band-mate and music producer, Isaias Gamboa.  Skeptical at first, Gamboa initially set out to prove Louise Shropshire's claim was invalid. Before long however, he would uncover the undeniable truth  that Louise Shropshire had a critical role in the creation of, We Shall Overcome and that her hymn had been misappropriated by powerful music industry profiteers.

Over the course of eight years, Isaias Gamboa would travel across the United States to record remarkable video interviews and testimony regarding the true origins of, We Shall Overcome - interviews Including that of Pete Seeger himself.

In 2012 Gamboa's research was published in his book entitled, "We Shall Overcome: Sacred Song on the Devils Tongue". 

In 2016, led by Gamboa, the We Shall Overcome Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit against, The Richmond Organization , who Gamboa believed claimed illegitimate control of the copyright.  In January of 2018, New York Federal Judge, Denise Cote agreed signed an order forever freeing, We Shall Overcome from bondage by releasing it  the public domain. 

A powerful feature-length documentary on the subject, written, produced and directed by Gamboa is scheduled for release in 2020.













September 23, 2013





WHEREAS, Louise Shropshire (1913-1993), the granddaughter of slaves, was born Louise Jarrett on February 15, 1913 in Coffee County, Alabama; and 

WHEREAS, Mrs. Shropshire and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1917, and resided in the 800 block of Fourth Street in the West End, in search of a better life than what they had endured as rural Alabama sharecroppers; and 

WHEREAS, Louise Shropshire attended the Cincinnati Public School, Abigail Cutter Junior High formerly the School for Creative and Performing Arts, then the home of Old Woodward High School; and 

WHEREAS, At a young age, Louise demonstrated a gift of music and composed many hymns that were significant to the Civil Rights Movement, a movement that was a fight for equality, ensuring that the rights of all people are equally protected by the law, including the rights of minorities; and 


WHEREAS, Louise’s composer talents were coupled with her choir director skills that awarded her the position of directing the mass choir of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses convention and performing with her family singing group at the convention; and 

WHEREAS, Mrs. Shropshire's gift, love for music and entrepreneurial spirit carried over into her owning a music store called You Name It Sound Shop, and launching, Shropshire Records—her own record label; and 

WHEREAS, sometime between 1932 and 1942, Mrs. Shropshire wrote If My Jesus Wills, the national hymn of the non-violent civil rights movement, and copyrighted the song in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1954 and;  

WHEREAS, in 1960 folk singers Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton, Myles Horton, Zilphia Horton, and Pete Seeger registered a copyright for We Shall Overcome as a derivative work without accrediting the work to Mrs. Shropshire; and 


WHEREAS, "I’ll Overcome, I’ll Overcome, I’ll Overcome Someday, If My Jesus Wills, I Do Believe, I’ll Overcome Someday," are the lyrics to If My Jesus Wills; and  


WHEREAS, lyrics to We Shall Overcome are:  "We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome Someday, Deep in My Heart, I Do Believe, We Shall Overcome Someday;" and 


WHEREAS, those lyrics, through copyrights and musical specialists, confirm that We Shall Overcome was derived through those works of If My Jesus Wills and inspired one of the greatest freedom movements in U.S. history, the most powerful song of the 20th Century, and was used first as a protest song in 1945, according to the United States Library of Congress; and 


WHEREAS, the School for Creative and Performing Arts Orchestra will be performing the Battle Hymn of the Republic at An Evening of Hope, The Life and Legacy of Louise Shropshire program, on September 27, 2013, at the Inspirational Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. 


NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that on September 23, 2013, the Cincinnati Board of Education commemorates the musical contributions of Louise Shropshire to the American Civil Rights Movement; and 


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Cincinnati Public School District recognizes the importance of the arts, and the significant impact of the song, We Shall Overcome, and how those lyrics continue to give strength to many. 



Eileen Cooper Reed, President 

Alexander P. Kuhns, Vice President 

Melanie Bates 

Eve Bolton 

Catherine D. Ingram 

A. Chris Nelms 

Vanessa Y. White 



Ms. Ingram moved and Mr. Kuhns seconded the motion that The Resolution Commemorating The Musical Contribution Of Louise Shropshire To The American Civil Rights Movement be approved. 


Ayes:  Bates, Ingram, Kuhns, Nelms, President Cooper Reed (5) 

Noes:  None 


President Cooper Reed declared the motion carried. 

See original here on page 563: http://www.cps-k12.org/sites/www.cps-k12.org/files/files/pdfs/boardminutes/092313%20Special%26Regular_0.pdf