Zilphia Horton

Zilphia Horton (1910-1956) was American musician, community organizer, educator, Civil Rights activist, and folklorist. She is best-known for her work with her husband Myles Horton at the Highlander Folk School where she is generally credited with turning such songs as "We Shall Overcome", "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize," "We Shall Not Be Moved, " and "This Little Light of Mine" from hymns into songs of the Civil Rights movement.

She was born Zilphia Mae Johnson in Paris, Arkansas. She was trained as a classical musician.

Zilphia was a graduate of the College of the Ozarks. She was determined to use her talents for the better good of the southern working class. She was disowned by her family after she tried to organize her father's coal mine. In 1935, she attended a labor education workshop at the Highlander Folk School. Two months later, she married the school's founder, Myles Horton.

As a member of the staff, Zilphia served in many ways. She directed workers' theatre productions, junior union camps, and various community programs, organized union locals, and led singing at workshops, picket lines, union meetings, and fund-raising concerts. She had students collect folk songs, religious music, and union songs around the South which she then re-wrote or re-worked to turn into anthems of the Civil Rights movement.

She and Myles Horton had two children. In 1956, she died of kidney failure after accidentally drinking a glass of typewriter cleaning fluid she mistook for water.

[edit] Accomplishments

She is best known for helping to transform the song "We Shall Overcome" into a Civil Rights anthem in 1946. Other musicians credited with transforming the song are Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, and Pete Seeger. Other songs she re-worked were "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize," "We Shall Not Be Moved, " and "This Little Light of Mine." She collected hundreds of songs. Her papers are deposited in the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville.

[edit] References

Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index

Alternatives  –  Left History  –  Libraries & Archives  –  Social Change  – 

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