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UC Historical Collection Reveals the Songwriter Who United the Voice of the National Civil Rights Movement

UC presents ‘We Shall Overcome – The Legacy of Louise Shropshire,’ as the university introduces a new collection for students and scholars.

Date: 9/8/2014 9:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: The Louise Shropshore Collection

UC ingot   As the nation marks the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act, there’s a history behind the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement that unfolded here in Cincinnati. It’s a history linking the song “We Shall Overcome” to an African-American Cincinnati woman and composer, Louise Shropshire, who was ahead of her time.
Louise Shropshire
Louise Shropshire

Shropshire – the daughter of Alabama sharecroppers and the granddaughter of slaves –had ties to the nation’s most prominent civil rights activists of the 1960s, including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a history now under preservation at the University of Cincinnati that will serve students and scholars of history, race relations, activism, religion and music. UC will honor the donors of this collection during the program, “We Shall Overcome – The Legacy of Louise Shropshire,” at 4 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 18, in University Pavilion, Room 310. The event is open to the public.

UC President Santa J. Ono will formally acknowledge the Shropshire family’s contribution to the university. The program will recognize family members of Louise Shropshire and include performances of “We Shall Overcome,” as well as a song that Shropshire copyrighted in 1954, “If My Jesus Wills.” The lyrics read, “I’ll Overcome, I’ll Overcome, I’ll Overcome Someday – If My Jesus Wills, I Do Believe, I’ll Overcome Someday.” It was Louise Shropshire’s best-known composition, adapted by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. that evolved into the anthem that united the Civil Rights Movement. The song never was credited to the original composer.

The program will feature remarks from Isaias Gamboa, author of “We Shall Overcome – Sacred Song on the Devil’s Tongue (2012).” The book traces the history of Shropshire’s original choral composition. Gamboa, a former record producer and songwriter, began to uncover the history after he was approached by a former band mate, Robert Anthony Goins Shropshire, who is Louise Shropshire’s grandson. Robert Anthony Goins Shropshire will be among the Shropshire family members attending the UC ceremony.

Louise Shropshire and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Louise Shropshire and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Louise Shropshire’s friends included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth (Gamboa credits Shropshire for bringing Shuttlesworth to Cincinnati) and famous black gospel music composer Thomas A. Dorsey. Gamboa says she was also instrumental in establishing the Greater New Light Baptist Church in Cincinnati. Her husband, Robert Shropshire Sr., was a successful businessman and owned a bail-and-bonds service in Cincinnati that remains under the Shropshire family name today. Louise would often work to bail fellow activists out of jail, since peaceful civil disobedience in that era led to incarceration.

Eric Abercrumbie, UC executive director of diversity and community relations, says UC serves as the appropriate home to make the Shropshire collection widely available to scholars. Richard Anthony Goins, the son-in-law of Louise Shropshire and father of Robert Anthony Goins Shropshire, is a UC alumnus.

The photos, sheet music, letters and family memorabilia from the Shropshire collection will be processed and stored in UC’s Archives and Rare Books Library, located on the eighth floor of Blegen Library.

The Shropshire family will also take part in a special tour of a UC Archives exhibit in Blegen Library featuring the Shropshire materials and photos of the people and events related to the Civil Rights Movement in Cincinnati. The family tour of the exhibit will get underway at 3 p.m., on Sept. 18, preceding the Shropshire special program. The library exhibit will run through October.

The program, “We Shall Overcome – The Legacy of Louise Shropshire,” is presented by the UC Office of the Chief Diversity Officer; University Archives; Student Affairs; Office of the President; and Governmental Relations and University Communications.

The Shropshire Collection – A Leading Lady with a Leading Voice