Voices from Lafayette's Black community consider democracy and the Black experience.

How much more shall we overcome?

People carrying signs at a march in 1963. Photo is black and white.
Marchers demand voting rights at the 1963 March on Washington. Library of Congress

This essay by guest editor Ruth Foote introduces Straight News Online’s 2024 Black History Month series Reflections on Democracy.

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome...”

Whenever the civil rights anthem was sung, it still made me cringe somewhat — even though I lip-synced it most of the time.

While I probably was the only one who feared singing off key, I suspected, and confirmed, that I wasn’t the only one who had grown weary of the song.

It is a beautiful song, a powerful song — the embraced and embodied theme of the civil rights movement, after all.

But juxtaposed against the reality of the moment, it seemed time to put the words to rest.

There were those who tried to rectify the situation, and began singing instead, “We have overcome.”

That still presented a problem, though. Intentions — which were, definitely, good — were perhaps a bit delusional. The song’s fallacy was that reality was mocking us.

Compounding the situation were two words: some day.

Some day? You could only make such a commitment if you were prepared to wait on infinity.

Should we allow time to stop us from singing? Halt our musing on whether losses outweigh gains, or vice versa? In other words, should we wait to see what is behind Door #3, or do we take action now?

These questions require reflections, especially when we ponder democracy, the civil rights movement and African Americans.

And that is exactly what we will do during this year’s Black History Month series. We proudly welcome our four essayists, and hope you enjoy their words and hearts.

If necessary, we could begin at democracy’s early beginnings when truths were not self-evident for those of a darker hue, for those who had been affirmed as property.

But even if we fast forward to this moment and this time, the glass is half empty, and the harsh reality is that its contents are evaporating.

Whether the glass has been spat in, or its water drained, we know there are still those who have succeeded nonetheless.

And despite being crabs in the bucket, they have shaken off those who try to pull them back down, and broken free from those who try to clamp the lid over their dreams.

We know there are those who bear legacies, and those who bear nothing at all.

But the reality of life is that the glass is also half full. That means there will always be plenty of things to overcome in life. And plenty of times to be rewarded within our souls when we do.

After all, we were not born to sing in vain. Instead, there is a reason why we sing. Just ask the sparrow.