June 2021 DEI Article
“Lift Every Voice and Sing”
Written by Nancy L. Jordahl, ACP
I follow Ashley Nicole Black (@ashleyn1cole) on Twitter and she recently made a reference to the Black National Anthem. I had no idea what she was talking about (which was the point she was making in her tweet). I was curious, so I Googled it and discovered that the Black National Anthem is “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was originally written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1899. His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, wrote the music, and it was sung as part of the celebration for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. The brothers collaborated on many other songs over the years.
One special tie to us as NALA members and paralegals is that James Weldon Johnson was an attorney in Jacksonville, Florida. He was the first African American person admitted to the Florida Bar Exam since the Reconstruction era ended. He was the first Black man in Duval County, Florida, to try to gain admission to the state bar.-
In 1919, the NAACP made it their official song. The song was considered the Black National Anthem about 10 years before the “Star-Spangled Banner” officially became the national anthem for the United States in 1931.
Author Imani Perry wrote a book about the song called May Forever We Stand. Director Spike Lee included the song in his movie Do the Right Thing. During the 2020 NFL opening week, the song was performed before every game. Many performers have covered the song including Beyoncé, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Stevie Wonder. The song is sung at church, school graduations, political protests, and family reunions.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing”
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.