This post provides information about and lyrics for the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing". That song has been called "the Black national anthem (formerly, "the Negro national anthem"). This post also includes a video example of that song.
The content of this post is presented for cultural and aesthetic purposes.
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LYRICS - LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING
(James Weldon Johnson)
Lift every voice and sing,
Till 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 till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning 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,
Till 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 hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast 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.
HISTORY OF 'LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING"
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by a school principal and first performed by 500 children in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1900. Though unveiled as part of a community celebration in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the song quickly spread outside the community of Jacksonville. Within a decade, black school children across America were singing the song, and in 1919, the recently formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) adopted “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as its official song. Today, the song is frequently described as the “African American National Anthem.”
James Weldon Johnson was 29 years old and the principal of Stanton School when he was asked to prepare something for the Lincoln celebration. He first wrote a poem, but anxious to have a real impact, he asked his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, a trained composer, to set his words to music...
In the song’s first verse, Johnson urged his chorus to sing a joyful song of hope and faith; African Americans should rejoice as a “new day” was dawning. In the second verse, though, this all-positive tone was traded for a bitter reflection on American history. While not mentioning slavery specifically, he calls all to remember that “stony the road we trod, bitter the chast'ning rod.” Blacks may have been marching toward a new day, but the path had led “through the blood of the slaughtered.” And while there was hope for the future—“now we stand at last where the white gleam of our star is cast”—it was not yet time to relax. There was more work left to do, more battles to be fought. Therefore, he urged, “Let us march on till victory is won...
It’s entirely possible that the song has remained popular for over a century because it speaks to people advocating different approaches and methods. Steeped in religion, the song is a demand for faith. Aware of history, it invokes images of the past while at the same time acknowledging signs of progress. “Lift every Voice and Sing” survives as an anthem because it conjures up the right mix of emotion. It suggests that people should be joyful and angry, grateful for the change that has already occurred, yet mindful that the struggle is not over yet..”
WHY "LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING" IS CALLED THE BLACK NATIONAL ANTHEM [Revised November 8, 2016]
"Lift Every Voice And Sing" is referred to as the Black National Anthem (formerly, the Negro National Anthem). That title was probably conferred on that song by the civil rights organization, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who adopted "Lift Every Voice And Sing" as their organization's theme song in 1919.
It's important to emphasize that referring to "Lift Every Voice And Sing" as the Black national anthem was never meant to indicate or suggest that African Americans aren't part of the United States or that most African Americans wanted to form a nation separate from the United States. Instead, referring to "Lift Every Voice And Sing" as the Black national anthem term recognizes the fact that (most) African Americans consider ourselves (and are considered by others to be) a population within the larger population of the United States.
I learned "Lift Every Voice And Sing" in the early 1960s through my membership in the junior (children and teens) branch of the NAACP civil rights organization in Atlantic City, New Jersey. During that time, everyone was supposed to stand up out of respect while singing "Lift Every Voice And Sing" and men were supposed to remove their hats.
In introducing this song during the 1973 Watts (Los Angeles, California) concert -as shown in the video below- Black activist Jesse Jackson directs the huge audience to stand and raise their fist in the black power salute while singing "Lift Every Voice And Sing". The audience did so, but that Black power salute wasn't usually done for that song or for any other song. That said, I think that the reason that Jesse Jackson added that salute to the singing of the Black national anthem was to have the mostly young adult Black people attending that concert show respect for their past, and show determination to keep on pushing for the rights that Black people are supposed to have in the United States.
My sense is that few African Americans under the age of forty years old know the words to "Lift Every Voice And Sing". I also think that few African Americans under the age of forty years old know that that song is called the "Black (African American) national anthem. "Lift Every Voice And Sing" is seldom sung at social gatherings that I've attended in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-from the late 1960s to date, including in gatherings that were considered to be afrocentric. And when that song was sung at two Black community cultural events in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1990s, few people knew the words without reading the lyrics in the program, and few people (besides me) stood up out of respect while singing this song. I strongly regret this relative lack of knowledge about "Lift Every Voice And Sing" -and other civil rights songs and I'm determined to do my part to address this lack of knowledge by publishing information, lyrics, and video examples of civil rights songs on this blog.
SHOWCASE VIDEO EXAMPLE - Wattstax THE Black National Anthem KIM WESTON
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100,000 Black PEople in UNITY STAND for the national BLACK Anthem
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