We Shall Not Be Moved
One of the great details about the Negro Spirituals is that they developed through the years over campfires and in the fields. No one wrote down the notes or the lyrics. They were just sung and handed down from generation to generation. As a result, they don’t belong to any specific individual. They belong to a people, or a cause.
As the songs made their way into public spaces and venues, they told their stories and inspired other peoples and their cultures who took them and adapted them to their own causes.
I Shall Not Be Moved is one of those great spirituals of the past. It is derived from the Bible: Psalms 1, which illustrates a godly person as a tree “firmly planted.” There is another passage of scripture, though, that speaks to the grip of faith in the face of oppression and persecution.
“I have set the LORD continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be moved.”
The song cries out with a voice of faithful resistance and determination. As it became more and more popular it found its way into every cause that needed a voice. The suffrage movement of the 20th century, the labor movement of the 30’s and 40’s and right on into the civil rights movement of the 60’s. Eventually, it was taken in and became a part of the age of revivals and tent meetings. All found inspiration and power in this simple hymn of the slaves.
The song has been sung in the streets, in the pews, at rallies, in camp meetings, in picket lines and it even inspired an overthrow of the Chilean government in the 1970’s. Yet, no one knows who first sang it or who put the powerful lines and tune together. That’s the beauty of a great hymn. The glory goes to God alone and we sing it freely from the heart.