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120Southern Cultures be fair to second-guess the editorial decisions that produced Southern Women: Histories and Identities. Nevertheless, having had a hand in creating the 1988 conference (as cochair of the program committee), 1 am struck by the fact that the range of scholarship on southern women showcased at that meeting is not represented in this collection. This criticism is not meant to cast aspersions on either the historical significance or the quality of the articles included in Southern Women. One wonders, however, the extent to which race, class, and ethnic diversity served as guideposts for the editors. In particular, the absence of articles on Native American and Jewish women and the editors' penchant for describing southern women as either black or white reinforce two persistent myths about the region: that even as southern society remains divided along biracial lines, homogeneous cultural values, based on a commitment to Christianity, have the potential for bridging that biracial divide. We Shall Overcome. Produced by Jim Brown, Ginger Brown, Harold Leventhal, and George Stoney. Narrated by Harry Belafonte. 1/2-inch video, 58 minutes, color. California Newsreel, 149 Ninth Street, No. 420, San Francisco, CA 94103. Reviewed by TrudierHarris, A. B. Longstreet Professor ofAmerican Literature atEmory University. She recentlypublished Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison. As the title suggests, this video focuses on the song that became the anthem of the civil rights movement. The film shows, however, that "We Shall Overcome" has a history in civil struggle that reaches far beyond the 1960s. The film begins with commentary from Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Desmond Tutu, Bernice Reagon, and Julian Bond on the importance and power of the song. Next it moves through a chronological recounting of the song's value to people struggling in the United States and throughout the world. The history of "We Shall Overcome" is a history of social change, of powerless people confronting insensitive and powerful law enforcement agencies, and of the undauntable element in the human spirit that enables people to work for progress in spite of the oppressive forces arrayed against them. The video is informative and argumentative. Its presentation of prominent white folk singers speaking over the silent actions of black participants in the civil rights movement , in effect, assigns the role of history-making primarily to white popularizers of "We Shall Overcome." By the time the viewer hears black voices in the film, the producers, through images and commentary, have already made the claim that Pete Seeger was probably the person most responsible for its development as a cultural icon. Seeger's commentary at strategic junctures throughout as well as at the end of the film reiterates that point. While there is no denying that Seeger traveled all over the country and the world singing the song, or that people heard his recordings before they knew the history of the civil rights movement, there is equally no denying that "We Shall Overcome" is usually identified with African Americans or that its first use as an instrument of social protest occurred in South Carolina. In Charleston in 1945, a group of black women on strike against the city's tobacco manufacturers toned down the song's "gospelly" tempo to a more measured cadence suitable to the picket line. "I Will Overcome" was the basic refrain, which obviously had Reviews121 both a religious and a secular meaning. The original style of the song grew out of the "shout" tradition of black Sea Islanders, with the rhythmic hand clapping and foot movements characteristic of such singing. While the filmmakers include a segment on the reunion of the women who participated in the Charleston strike, allowing them to share information on style and context for the song, their appearances on screen pale in comparison with the footage devoted to others. By focusing on alterations in the singing of "We Shall Overcome," the film documents how the song itself had been shaped and restyled by various performance practices. That process began when the women in Charleston received an invitation to visit the Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee, in 1946. This led to more group-style singing of the song, and it was Zilphia Horton, the center...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 120-121
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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