Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shall We Overcome?

The Living Legacy Tour ended ten days ago, and I'm writing my last post (followed by a post from Annette Marquis) to close out the tour. In the past week, I've received emails and questions in person: what was ever decided about singing We Shall Overcome?

We had time on Saturday to discuss concerns of the community. I thought that someone would return to the conversation about who'd "earned" the right or "inherited" the right to sing We Shall Overcome. No one raised the topic. However, Leon Dunkley sang a song he'd composed that somehow miraculously morphed into We Shall Overcome. Another miracle of sorts -- some folks stood up, then more, until all of us were standing and singing together. I don't want to overanalyze but I think that after three days, we knew each other well enough to trust a bit more, to risk a bit more, to want to stand together enough that we got past whatever had separated us, if only for that moment.

There are many more white folks willing to sing "We Shall Overcome" than white folks willing to be part of the "We" that is struggling for justice or working actively to end racism. As long as that is true, there will be people of color and their allies who are angered or saddened by white people singing "We Shall Overcome", even if some of those singing also sang it at Selma or Montgomery with Dr. King. While the folks on our pilgrimage found a way to sing together, this remains an incomplete conversation for me.

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