By Tonya S. Swindell
“We Shall Overcome” is a fight song for freedom that pacified and unified a bus load of people who were Catholic, Protestant, black, white, and Jew, as they stood for freedom and fought for truth.
Its lyrics were conscientious, not at all pretentious, and they were written to cast doubt aside. They sustained a people overwhelmed by the evils of bigotry, hatred and pride.
The lyrics bonded Americans (some light-skinned, some dark, some rich and some poor), to serve on the same “freedom team”; to hold fast to hope and gain strength to cope until achieving The American Dream.
In 1961 the highest court ruled segregated buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states ignored the Supreme Court’s order and kept them as an unofficial rule.
Then young people of various races, from multiple universities in different places, rode around on “freedom buses” very deep within Southern clutches to eagerly spread their heartfelt message of unity, hope and love. But instead of being welcomed in, they were battered, bruised and shoved.
They encountered a lot of resistance and lost the lives of many when they pulled into a town to face crowds throughout a city.
They called on the Lord saying, “Please help us do this,” and they counted it done ‘cause their weapons were not fists. Their weapons were words from an arsenal so powerful and they launched them through prayer with truths from the Bible.
“We shall overcome,” is like: “We are more than conquerors,” just a different way of saying the same thing.
“The Lord will see us through,” is like: “Lord, I put my trust in you,”- a phrase penned by David the King.
“We’re on to victory,” sounds like Deuteronomy 20: “For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies.”
“We’ll walk hand in hand,” demands a love that is brotherly. Psalm 133 says, “ . . . How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony.”
The lyric, “We are not afraid,” is like a similar paraphrase: “I will not fear although my valley is right here and it’s shadowed by angry death!” (paraphrase of Psalm 23:4)
“The truth shall make us free,” came from the book of John directly; so did, “Sanctify me by thy truth . . .,” and we know it can be tested.
The message of “We shall live in peace,” can be found in scriptures like these: Isaiah 26, John 14, and Philippians 4: 6 and 7. But the overall message is pretty clear: God wants everyone to experience heaven.
Freedom Riders trusted in the Lord to move mountains by His power, to defeat opposing forces through nonviolence by the hour.
When it was said and done and some victories were won, they invited God’s will to purify and heal aching wounds that were hurt, pain and dis-ease filled.
Each Freedom Rider took a turn to lift their voice and sing: “We shall overcome.” “The Lord will see us through,” and “We’re on to victory.”
Each Freedom Rider took a chance when they raised their voice and sang, “We’ll walk hand in hand,” “We are not afraid.” “The truth shall make us free,” and “WE – SHALL – LIVE – IN – PEACE – SOMEDAY.”
They withstood strenuous tests so we could all be blessed. Now we can ride the bus and sit in a front row seat or sit at lunch counters without being attacked while we eat.
Our kids attend school and learn side by side. We show love to our neighbors by putting hatred behind.
We drink at water fountains to suppress summer’s heat. We exercise our right to vote and campaign for presidential seats.
Thank God Freedom Riders did not give up on their nonviolent struggles to overcome. Thank God Freedom Riders sang a victorious song propelling them forward on their journey so long.
Thank God Freedom Riders grasped the Master’s Hand to help them place feet on The Rock to stand.
Thank God for brown people, and black and white too, who bled and who died in the fight for truth.
Thank God for the grace that was on our side. Now the question is, “Who’s ready for the next freedom ride?”