Saturday, July 4, 2020

James Weldon Johnson's Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing

A scense from the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.
The poem that became the Black National Anthem.

Lift ev'ry voice and sing
'Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on 'til victory is won

Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
'Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land

— James Weldon Johnson

Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing began life as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. James' brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music in 1905 to honor Booker T. Washington on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln's birthday. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) referred to the poem in 1919 as, "the Negro national hymn."

Johnson himself would become the executive secretary of the NAACP from 1920-1930 and was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance championing the poetry and spirituals of Black Americans. Three volumes of Johnson's poetry was published during his lifetime and his Complete Poems was published in 2000.

Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing will be played before the national anthem during Week One of the 2020 National Football League season.

The photo accompanying Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing is from the Lowndes Interpretive Center in Alabama and is in the public domain. The title above the photo reads, Towards Equality.

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