Zilphia Horton was a pioneer of cultural organizing, an activist and musician who taught people how to use the arts as a tool for social change, and a catalyst for anthems of empowerment such as “We Shall Overcome” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Her contributions to the Highlander Folk School, a pivotal center of the labor and civil rights movements in the mid-twentieth century, and her work creating the songbook of the labor movement influenced countless figures, from Woody Guthrie to Eleanor Roosevelt to Rosa Parks. Despite her outsized impact, Horton’s story is little known. A Singing Army introduces this overlooked figure to the world.
Drawing on extensive archival and oral history research, as well as numerous interviews with Horton's family and friends, Kim Ruehl chronicles her life from her childhood in Arkansas coal country, through her formative travels and friendship with radical Presbyterian minister Claude C. Williams, and into her instrumental work in desegregation and fostering the music of the civil rights era. Revealing these experiences—as well as her unconventional marriage and controversial death by poisoning—A Singing Army tells the story of an all-but-forgotten woman who inspired thousands of working-class people to stand up and sing for freedom and equality.