The song wasn't copyrighted until October 7, 1963. Listed as "New material arranged for voice and piano with guitar chords and some new words," the copyright was granted to Seeger, Guy Carawan, Zilphia Horton and Frank Hamilton. Horton had died in 1956, so her husband Myles represented her estate in the claim. Myles Horton was co-founder of the Highlander Folk School; Frank Hamilton was a folk singer who worked with Seeger and often performed the song.
All four of the copyright holders (the composer credit is listed as Guy Carawan/Frank Hamilton/Zilphia Horton/Pete Seeger) advanced the song in some fashion, but none profited from the songwriting royalties, which are donated to the We Shall Overcome Fund. Administered by the Highlander Research and Education Center, the fund supports cultural and educational endeavors in African American communities in the South.
By the time the song was copyrighted, the original words written by Charles Albert Tindley in 1901 had been transformed to the extent that he was not due a writer's credit (giving him one would have made delivering the song's proceeds to charity very difficult). Tindley does have another musical claim to fame: he also wrote a hymn called "Stand By Me," which became the basis for the Ben E. King hit of the same name
. He was left off the credits for that one, too.