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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Pete Seeger on Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King: "We Shall Overcome"

Folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger: "I met her, I met all three of them that day. As a matter of fact, there is a picture taken of us standing in front of a cinder block wall. They enlarged the barn which became their library. (Dr. Martin Luther) King, (the Rev. Ralph) Abernathy, Rosa (Parks), me , Myles (Horton), (co-founder of the Highlander Folk School) , and the teenage daughter of Zilphia (Horton) were there."

Zilphia Horton, perhaps, is best known for teaching Pete Seeger an early version of We Shall Overcome, which would become an important civil rights anthem of the 20th century.


"On September 2, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Part of the school’s mission was to help prepare civil rights workers to challenge unjust laws and racist policies that discriminated against African Americans.

"The school also made a point of bringing blacks and whites together to share experiences and to learn from each other. It was a dangerous idea. At a time when southern laws kept blacks and whites segregated or separate, some white racists terrorized African Americans with deadly violence.

"Dr. King delivered the main speech that day, honoring the school’s 25th anniversary. As part of the meeting, folk singer Pete Seeger got up with his banjo. He plucked out a song he had learned at Highlander, and led the audience in singing it.

"Later that day, Dr. King found himself humming the tune in the car. “There’s something about that song that haunts you,” he said to his companions." The Kennedy Center


January 16, 2023, is a national holiday in the United States celebrating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1929.

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