We Shall Overcome
by David Hopings, Manager of the Visitor Experience
Montgomery AL, May 21st 8 PM
As afternoon sun transitions into stillness of night, the sticky heat of a hot Alabama afternoon is slowly replaced by cooler temperatures and a faint breeze. Both of which are minimal comfort for a community in utter turmoil. 1500 men, women, and children have gathered at the First Baptist Church to stand in solidarity with the Freedom Riders’ breathlessly perilous act of protest- traveling the 93.4 miles between Birmingham and Montgomery on a desegregated bus. At the conclusion of their flying police escorted trip the riders were met with significant violent force, delivered mercilessly by angry men wielding sawed off bat handles and lengths of lead pipe.
Outside First Baptist a mob has welled up to over 2,000 men, they set fire to parked cars and threaten to turn their attentions to the church itself. Armed with little more than a small smattering of Federal Marshals, a few impassioned preachers, and their faith- the lives of the folks in attendance hang in the balance.... Engulfed in a hail of thrown bricks and falling glass the church goers wait deep into the night. A call from Bobby Kennedy with the promise of additional federal troop support is their only chance to escape the church unscathed.
In the hands of the right singer, a song can be a weapon or redeemer. A joyful noise or a wailing lament. From dark spaces it can light a path for those faithful few who stand on the line for justice and equality. “We shall overcome, we shall overcome. Someday. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe. We shall overcome someday”.
Watch Joan Baez perform the Civil Rights anthem at the March on Washington: