We Shall Overcome and United States folk singer Guy Carawan


This music video from the USA is called Joan Baez: We Shall Overcome. March on Washington, 1963.

By Karl Dallas in Britain:

Obituary: GUY CARAWAN singer and activist, 27.07.1927-02.05.2015

Thursday 14th May 2015

THE LEADING US folk singer and civil rights activist Guy Carawan, who died on May 2 at the age of 87, will go down in history as the man who gave the world the anthem We Shall Overcome — though the song was much more of a collective effort than the popular perception of it.

In the late 1950, London was full of US expatriate folk singers, some of them exiles from McCarthyite persecution, others seeking out the British roots of the American tradition.

Some of them, like Carawan and Peggy Seeger, were on their way to the sixth world youth festival in Moscow which attracted 34,000 participants in 1957. While in Britain, Carawan had a minor hit with the single Michael Row the Boat Ashore, backed by Vern Partlow’s anti-nuclear talking blues Old Man Atom, with the memorable lines : “I hold this truth to be self-evident/That all men may be cremated equal.”

This music video from the USA says about itself:

“Old Man Atom (Talking Atomic Blues)” is sung by Ozie Waters on Coral 64050.

The song is by Vern Partlow (1910-1987) and Irving Bibo. Ozie Waters was a Colorado musician active in the 1940s and 1950s in the country and western field.

“Talking Atomic Blues” (aka “Old Man Atom”) was composed in 1945 by California newspaperman Vern Partlow (1910-1987). He was inspired to write the song after conducting interviews with nuclear scientists for an article he wrote for the Los Angeles Daily News. First recorded by Sam Hinton for ABC Eagle Records in 1949, it was covered by a number of artists, including Ozzie Davis and the Sons of the Pioneers. The song became one of the most popular novelty records of 1950 until the United States government’s War on Communism prompted record companies to withdraw the recording from circulation.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Alamogordo, Bikini

I’m gonna preach you all a sermon
About Old Man Atom
I don’t mean the Adam in the Bible’s Adam
I don’t mean the Adam that Mother Eve mated
I mean that thing that science liberated
The thing that Einstein says he’s scared of
And when Einstein‘s scared,
Brother, you’d better be scared.

If you’re scared of the atom, here’s whats you gotta do
You gotta gather all the people in the world with you
Cause if you don’t get together and do it
Well, first thing, you know, we’re gonna blow this world plum to [hell]

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Alamogordo, Bikini

Now life used to be such a simple joy
The cyclotron was just a super toy
And folks got born, they’d work and marry,
And “atom” was a word in the dictionary
And then it happened.

The science boys from every clime
They all pitched in with overtime
And before they knew it
The job was done
And they’d hitched up the power of the God-durn Sun
And put a harness on Old Sol
Splittin’ atoms
While the diplomats was a-splittin’ hairs

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Alamogordo, Bikini

But the atom’s international in spite of hysteria.
It flourishes in Utah as well as Siberia,
And whether you’re black, white, red, or brown,
The question is this, when you boil it down
To be or not to be–that is the question.
The answer to it all ain’t military datum
Like who gets there first-est with the most-est atoms
No, the people of the world must decide their fate.
They gotta get together or disintegrate.

We hold this truth to be self-evident:
“That all men may be cremated equal.”

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Alamogordo, Bikini

Yes, it’s up to the people
Cause the atoms don’t care.
You can’t fence me in–he’s just like air.
He doesn’t give a hoot about any politics
Or who gets what into whichever fix.
All I want to do is sit around
And have my nucleus bombarded by neutrons.

Now the moral is this, just as plain as day,
That Old Man Atom is here to stay.
He’s gonna stick around, that’s plain to see,
But, ah, my dearly beloved, are we?
So listen folks, here is my thesis:
Peace in the world or the world in pieces

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Alamogordo, Bikini

The Karl Dallas article continues:

From Moscow, Carawan and Seeger were invited to travel to China. It was a journey strictly forbidden by the US State Department, who summoned them home to answer accusations of disloyalty. Seeger avoided extradition by acquiring British citizenship through marriage but Carawan went home to face the music.

Ironically, by taking away Carawan’s passport, the US establishment concentrated his musical work on his homeland, resulting ultimately in his popularising the anthem forever associated with him, We Shall Overcome.

Carawan didn’t in fact write the song because, like many other militant songs of the US south, it had gospel origins. The word “overcome” first appeared in the lyrics of We’ll Understand It By and By, composed by the Reverend Charles Tindley of Philadelphia in 1903: “When the saints of God are gathered home,/We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome.”

This mutated into I Will Overcome— still on a gospel theme —but, during the 1946 strike of several hundred employees of the American Tobacco Company in Charleston, a woman called Lucille Simmons changed the words “I will overcome” to “We will overcome.”

The strikers visited the Highlander folk school in Tennessee which, as well as training union organisers and leaders in 11 southern states from 1932 onwards, also pioneered desegregation in the trade union movement.

Simmons taught the song to Zilphia Horton who, in turn, taught it to Pete Seeger, who published it as We Will Overcome in the first People’s Songs Bulletin— which is where Carawan learned it.

Oppression by the US authorities fed into Carawan’s life. It didn’t cause him to keep his head down and hope he’d be left alone. He became even more of a singing activist.

He had already visited Highlander before his trip to Moscow and Beijing and he went there again in 1959 and a year later taught the song to 70 young activists, following which they and he went to the founding conference of the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), who took it and made it their own.

The SNCC Freedom Singers, Rutha Harris, Cordell Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Chuck Neblett travelled the country singing on college campuses, in churches and community centres, raising funds and awareness. The rest is history. As the New York Times described it in in 1963, We Shall Overcome became “the Marseillaise of the integration movement.”

But the song, and Carawan’s part in making it an international anthem of struggle, tell us something we need to remember about individuals and their relationships with the communities for whom they become the voices. Carawan never gave up.

Joe Hill, a previous singing agitator, told us on the eve of his execution: “Don’t mourn. Organise!” That would be a suitable response to Carawan’s death at a time when the forces of evil seem to be triumphant throughout the capitalist world.

Human rights, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, USA


This video says about itself:

Saudi Arabia Beheading

17 January 2015

“I did not commit the murder. I did not commit the murder” cries out the woman as she was dragged off to the street to get beheaded. “I will not forgive you. I will not forgive you” she adds telling her executioners that she will not forgive them for what they were about to do to her. She insists crying out “This is injustice. This is injustice”.

From Middle East Eye:

At GCC summit, Obama must confront Saudi on human rights

Husain Abdulla

Monday 11 May 2015 23:00 BST

Obama needs to take advantage of the upcoming GCC summit to pressure Saudi Arabia on its human rights record

While he was once a candidate promoting the “fierce urgency of now,” US President Barack Obama has approached potential reforms to the Saudi government’s human rights violations with caution. Though he recently promised a “tough conversation” with his Gulf Arab allies on the destabilising effects of their restrictive governing systems, he did not specify when this dialogue would take place. Human rights advocates, myself included, took to the press to inform him that his upcoming security summit with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders was the appropriate venue for this frank exchange. With King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s recent resetting of Saudi succession, however, suitability has transformed into urgency. Even as his time in elected office winds down, Obama must push his allies to reform their repressive practices before a new cohort of Saudi leaders locks them in place for another half-century.

When King Salman promoted Interior Minister Mohammed bin Naif and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman to Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince, respectively, some observers hailed the move as a prudent effort to “groom the country’s next generation of leadership”. But if the new line of succession truly marked “the next generation” of Saudi rulers, it represented the same Saudi politics. The reorganisation of the cabinet “concentrated almost all powers under the king” into the hands of two ruling family members who are responsible for some of Saudi Arabia’s most striking human rights abuses.

Under Prince bin Naif’s leadership, the Interior Ministry has purposefully and systematically misconstrued its internal security prerogative, equating dissent with terrorism in order to silence human rights defenders, political activists and members of religious minorities. Utilising specialised criminal courts and a terrorism law that effectively criminalises free speech, the Interior Ministry has brought charges against community activists like Fadhil al-Manasif, human rights advocates like Waleed Abu al-Khair, and religious scholars like Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. Both al-Manasif and Abu al-Khair were sentenced to 15-year prison terms, and Sheikh Nimr was sentenced to death. As Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch notes, Prince bin Naif’s efforts to restrict civil society voices are unprecedented.

Like bin Naif, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just 30 years old, oversees a ministry responsible for committing serious human rights violations. While Prince bin Salman’s Defence Ministry has achieved few of its stated goals in the Yemen campaign, it has succeeded in derailing the former UN envoy’s peace agreement and deepening a massive humanitarian crisis. According to estimates by the UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation, over 500 civilians have been killed in the fighting, including at least 115 children. What little infrastructure remains in the war-torn country – one already teetering on the edge of famine – has been rendered mostly inoperable by Saudi blockades preventing the arrival of supplies. Though his tenure has been brief, Prince bin Salman’s disregard for minimising civilian casualties has set a troubling precedent for future Saudi military operations.

The promotion of these two men signals a significant deterioration of the Saudi government’s already alarming human rights record. Gauging this situation, other leaders may shy away from engaging in a “tough conversation” on human rights and basic freedoms. Obama, however, should recognise that a generational shift can also mark the opportunity for a set of once-in-a-generation reforms. At the Camp David summit, he needs to inform his allies that the status quo is unsustainable, and that their current criminalisation of civil society and perpetuation of humanitarian crises pose the greatest threat to their long-term stability.

As Obama has repeatedly acknowledged, an active civil society is vital to ensuring internal security. In a September 2014 Presidential Memorandum on Civil Society, he wrote: “By giving people peaceful avenues to advance their interests and express their convictions, a free and flourishing civil society contributes to stability and helps to counter violent extremism.”

To weather the challenges posed by extremist groups, activists like Fadhil al-Manasif, Waleed Abu al-Khair and Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr must be promoting peaceful reform in their communities, not languishing in prison or facing execution. At Camp David, President Obama must urge the release of political prisoners and push the Saudi government for greater protections for civil society groups.

While Obama will soon leave the realm of international diplomacy, the next generation of Saudi leaders will remain in politics for decades. Whether they stick with the stability-endangering authoritarian tactics of previous generations will depend, in part, on how the president approaches next week’s GCC summit. He can redefine the security partnership between the US and Saudi Arabia, expanding its prerogatives to encompass the protection of human rights and the guarantee of basic freedoms. This redefinition cannot wait for another summit, or another presidency. The time for urgency is now.

Husain Abdulla, originally from Bahrain, is the founder and executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. Husain leads the organisation’s efforts to ensure that US policies support the democracy and human rights movement in Bahrain. Husain also works closely with members of the Bahraini-American community to ensure that their voices are heard by US government officials and the broader American public. Husain graduated from the University of South Alabama with a Master’s degree in Political Science and International Relations and a BA in Political Science and Mathematics.

President Obama should urge the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to show greater respect for human rights when he meets them on May 13 and 14, 2015, to discuss partnership and security: here.

Bahrain: End imprisonment of democracy campaigner Nabeel Rajab: here.

Human Rights Defender’s Hunger Strike Protests Torture in Infamous Bahraini Prison: here.

Bahrain: Open Letter from Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja on his 21st day of hunger strike to the High Commissioner for Human Rights: here.

Almusawi stressed on the Bahraini Authorities to allow UN torture expert, Mr. Juan Mendez, to see the victims and those concerned about the allegations of torture, degrading and cruel treatment: here.

Wernher von Braun, Hitler’s rocket engineer


This video from the USA says about itself:

Wernher von Braun: From Nazis to NASA

16 December 2014

The American space program wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the contributions of a scientist who was also a former Nazi. Learn about the life and work of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.

Hosted by: Hank Green

By Peter Frost in Britain:

The Nazi who got away with it

Monday 11th May 2015

Peter Frost has found memories in Germany, France and the US of a fascist rocket man and mass murderer who simply escaped justice

THE date: May 2 1945. The Location: Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps, where the cream of Germany’s rocket engineers are under the protection of the SS.

Allied troops are advancing across Germany. Wernher von Braun, the leader of the scientists, is determined to organise his surrender to US troops. He sends his brother Magnus out on his bicycle to find the US 44th Infantry.

Magnus approaches a soldier, calling out in broken English: “My name is Magnus von Braun. My brother invented the V-2. We want to surrender.”

Wernher von Braun was a nazi war criminal. Unlike some of his compatriots he never had to hide out in South America. His prompt action in Oberammergau meant that he would live a well-paid long public life in the US.

Don’t believe all the US post-war propaganda about him being a talented but non-political rocket scientist. He joined the Nazi Party in 1937 after bullying his way to the top position in German rocket research. He joined the SS and was promoted every year. He sported a swastika lapel badge and was photographed in full SS uniform with Himmler, his boss.

Strangely I’ve been coming across memories of Braun on a number of visits all over the world. His is a fascinating story of how, if you have the right skills, experience and political allies, you can get away with mass murder.

I first became interested in the man and his story when I visited his office, drawing office and workshop at Peenemunde on eastern Germany’s Baltic Coast some years ago.

It was here that Braun first developed the V-1 buzz-bombs that terrified Londoners and also the V-2 rockets that were so fast and so silent that Londoners didn’t have time to be terrified and were killed in their hundreds.

Today in reunified Germany those offices and workshops have been swept away along with, the authorities hope, all memories of Braun and his nazi plans for world domination by rocket.

On another later holiday I visited Cape Canaveral, now renamed Cape Kennedy, the US’s main rocket base on the east coast of Florida, where Braun was set up directly after the war, not as a war criminal but feted, given US citizenship, a good government salary and equipped with an office, drawing office and workshop built as an exact copy of the ones he had used in Peenemunde.

Braun’s V2 terror weapon — V for vergeltung, the German word for revenge — would become the basis for US space rockets, military intercontinental ballistic missiles and eventually the Apollo moon landing.

Today it’s hard to believe the US embarrassment at the Soviet Union’s early space achievements. The USSR launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. The first dog to fly in space, Laika took off the same year.

In 1959 a Soviet probe hit the moon. The first man in space was Yuri Gagarin, who flew in 1961. In 1965 the first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. That year too cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first to walk in space outside a space craft.

A recent survey by a US magazine showed that the vast majority of US citizens believed that their country achieved all those notable space firsts.

The US, it seemed, would forgive Braun and his nazi rocket team anything if they could get the US back into the space race and develop more deadly weapons.

Last summer in France we visited a wonderful museum just outside St Omer on the road from Calais. La Coupole is a huge man-made dome hidden in the French countryside. It’s been secret and unseen since 1943 until just a year or two ago.

It was dug on the orders of Braun, by 500 Soviet slave prisoners working in horrific conditions, as an assembly factory and launching spot for V-1 and V-2 rockets.

Only recently open to the public, the museum is also a tribute to the French resistance fighters — many of them French communists who played such an important part in the eventual defeat of the Nazis.

Unlike most of his nazi co-criminals who were hung at Nuremburg, Braun died in 1977 — a rich and famous man much admired in the US.

I think we should simply remember him as the Nazi war criminal who tried to rain death, destruction and mass murder on London, but never crushed our spirit.

This music video from the USA says about itself:

Tom Lehrer – Wernher von Braun – with intro

The song Wernher von Braun, written well before 1964 and recorded to Ampex video in 1967, was originally published on The Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel in July of 2007. The original 4:3-version is still on YouTube. This converted version is just an experiment, but if you watch this copy, you will get to hear Tom Lehrer’s spoken intro.

Try to click under the video window for higher playback quality or add &fmt=18 to the url to manually alter the playback resolution. It will not change too much though, because of the test conversion to wide screen.

To make this song even more spot on, Lehrer used eight bars from the well-known German national anthem “Das Lied der Deutschen” as a song intro :-)

African American civil rights singer Mavis Staples interviewed


This video says about itself:

Mavis! – Documentary Trailer

Her family group, the Staple Singers, inspired millions and helped propel the civil rights movement with their music. After 60 years of performing, legendary singer Mavis Staples’ message of love and equality is needed now more than ever.

Mavis!, the first documentary about Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers is directed by Jessica Edwards. The film will have it’s world premiere at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival and will screen at the Full Frame Documentary Festival and Hot Docs.

From CBC radio in Canada:

Monday April 27, 2015

Mavis Staples on crafting a soundtrack for the civil rights era

In a special two-part interview, Mavis Staples joins Shad to discuss her decades-long career, her family’s role in the civil rights movement and why — in the aftermath of Ferguson — we must collectively heed the lessons of history.

The legendary gospel/soul singer and civil rights activist is the subject of a new documentary titled Mavis!, screening at this year’s Hot Docs Festival. She tells Shad it was time to put the Staples story on the record, and “let the world know pops and his daughters were here”.

Staples also weighs in on the lack of modern day freedom songs, tells the back story of the hit song “Why am I treated so bad?”, and sets the record straight on why she turned down Bob Dylan‘s marriage proposal.

This music video from Switzerland says about itself:

Staple Singers – Why Am I Treated So Bad

Montreux Jazz Festival 1981 with Roebuck Staples on solo and Michael Logan on keyboards

“How do you start a conversation with children on America’s legacy of racial injustice? You tell them the story of an artist who confronted segregation and exposed that legacy. A new picture book, Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, takes on the admirable task of translating challenging material to readers ages five to eight. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jamey Christoph, the book traces Parks’ journey from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Washington, D.C., as he nurtured his interest in photography as a way to document and expose oppression in the United States.” (Read more here)