How to Use “We Shall Not Be Moved” In the Classroom

“We Shall Not Be Moved” transforms itself into a song to remember Black History, Civil Rights, freedom rights around the world, and the power of music with its simplistic style perfect for learning in the music classroom. Perfect for exploring in class or performances, and easily integrated into-

  • Black History Month,
  • Women’s History Month
  • Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Juneteenth
  • Civil Rights Lessons
  • World History

Table of Contents

  1. Protest & Spiritual Black History Song w/Orff Arr. on TPT
  2. Origins of the Song
    1. African-American Spiritual
    2. Early 20th Century
    3. 1930s Labor Rights Song
    4. “I Shall Not” to “We Shall Not”
    5. Union Song to FREEDOM Song
      1. The Freedom Singers at the March on Washington, 1963
    6. The Benefit of Protest Songs
      1. Mavis Staples
    7. “No Nos Moverán”
      1. No Nos Moverán with Joan Báez
    8. The Song Travels Around the World
  3. Summary
  4. Verses
  5. Performance Videos
    1. Mississippi John Hurt
    2. Rhiannon Giddens
  6. Books to Reference
  7. References

Protest & Spiritual Black History Song w/Orff Arr. on TPT

Origins of the Song

African-American Spiritual

With its call-and-response style and repetitive chorus, research strongly points to the origin of the song being an African-American “jubilee” spiritual sung at camp meetings during the early 19th century.

Early 20th Century

The song was very popular in black and white churches.

In David Spener’s book, “We Shall Not Be Moved: Biography of a Song of Struggle” he writes, “Thus, although it is impossible to know for certain exactly when and where “I Shall Not Be Moved” was sung for the first time, the song’s characteristics and the fact that by the twentieth century it came to form part of both the black and white Protestant traditions strongly suggest camp-meeting origins. [1]

1930s Labor Rights Song

Songs were used at union protests for better working conditions and “I Shall Not Be Moved” was a popular choice. New verses were added.

The first specific appearance in the historical record of “We Shall Not Be Moved” as a labor-rights song dates to a wildcat strike in 1931 by twenty thousand coal miners in Kanawha County, West Virginia.

It was a popular choice because similar to many songs used for these purposes, it was easy to learn. A leader would sing a first line and everyone would respond with “We shall not be moved.”

These types of songs came to be known as “zipper” songs where you only had to zip on a couple of new words to get a new verse.

“I Shall Not” to “We Shall Not”

As groups used the song, the “I” changed to the collective “We.”

The song gained popularity as a protest song in the United States.

Union Song to FREEDOM Song

The song became a popular choice in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s along with We Shall Overcome and Eyes On the Prize.

Spener explains, “One of the young activists who participated in Carawan’s workshops was Bernice Johnson Reagon, who would quickly become a leading singer of freedom songs for the movement. (The Freedom Singers) Subsequently, she would become a prominent scholar of African American song traditions in addition to composing and arranging songs she wrote for the women’s a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, which she founded in the 1970s.” [2]

The Freedom Singers at the March on Washington, 1963

The Benefit of Protest Songs

  • showed solidarity
  • helped with the fears of retaliation at protests
  • celebrated survival

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples details her personal history about marching with Dr. King and how the song was used during times of discrimination and protest.

“No Nos Moverán”

Songs of the Civil Rights Movement were translated into Spanish and used for the UFW (United Farm Workers) movement under César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and others. It was sung by activist and folk singer Joan Baez, whose father was a Mexican immigrant.

No Nos Moverán with Joan Báez

The Song Travels Around the World

  • To Chile-or human rights mission: Agrupación de Familiares de los Deteni-dos Desaparecidos (Organization of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared)
  • To Spain-to protest Spanish dictatorship

Summary

Spener summarizes, “…how a traditional spiritual song from the southern United States has been repeatedly transformed as it moved through movements across multiple social, cultural, linguistic, and political contexts over the course of nearly two centuries.

At the same time, it has become clear that as much as the song has been repeatedly transformed, it has retained its essential structure, including its message of unswerving commitment to a strongly held ideal of egalitarian justice in the face of adversity and opposition.

Moreover, it is evident that the people who have sung the song in so many different cultural contexts have shared certain moral and political commitments in spite of their different races, languages, and nationalities.” [3]

Verses

Replace “We shall not” with the below “zippers.”

  • Black and white together
  • Young and old together
  • Gay and straight together
  • The union is behind us
  • No more poison fracking
  • The union is behind us
  • We’re fighting for our freedom
  • We’re fighting for our children
  • We’re building a mighty union
  • When my burden’s heavy
  • The church of God is marching
  • Don’t let the world deceive you

Performance Videos

Mississippi John Hurt

Rhiannon Giddens

Books to Reference

References

  1. David Spener (2016). We Shall Not Be Moved: Biography of a Song of Struggle. Temple University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-439-91299-7.
  2. David Spener (2016). We Shall Not Be Moved: Biography of a Song of Struggle. Temple University Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-439-91299-7.
  3. David Spener (2016). We Shall Not Be Moved: Biography of a Song of Struggle. Temple University Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-439-91299-7.

Author: lbbartolomeo

I'm a mom, wife, teacher, reader, gardener, trekkie, sci-fi fanatic, musician, dog lover, and a Christian. I hope my contributions bring some joy and happiness to your life!

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