“We Shall Overcome” is in the Midst of a New Fight for Freedom


“We Shall Overcome” is an A-side on America’s jukebox, a song embraced as the anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement.

And there’s a tantalizing Cincinnati connection. Sometime between 1932 and 1942, local composer and choir director Louise Shropshire (pictured) wrote a hymn titled “If My Jesus Wills”; today, it is a broadly held belief that her hymn shares musical and lyrical DNA with the celebrated song we still sing. Who exactly deserves writing credit for and ownership of “We Shall Overcome,” however, is a matter in full dispute. Isaias Gamboa, a musician and producer in charge of the local nonprofit We Shall Overcome Foundation, filed a federal lawsuit in April against the song’s publishers in an effort to make the song public domain.

“The research I’ve done clearly demonstrates no one owns the song we know as ‘We Shall Overcome,’ ” he says.

The Richmond Organization, which currently holds the copyright, did not respond to requests for comment, and no court date has been set. Gamboa remains hopeful a settlement can be reached, and that Shropshire will ultimately get the credit she deserves—in the public eye, if not in terms of royalties. “This woman had some role,” he says. “The world can decide what role that is.”

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