According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Lift Every Voice and Sing was written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938). It was later set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873 – 1954) in 1899. The poem was originally created to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It was a way to show appreciation for his part in the emancipation of slavery. It later became the Black National Anthem as a way for African Americans to deal with the post-slavery era of Jim Crow.
Song of Inspiration
The song provided a sense of hope during a dark time. The two major turning points that led to Lift Every Voice and Sing to becoming the Black National Anthem, was in 1905 when Booker T Washington endorsed it and in 1919, it became the official song of the NAACP. This song came at a time when African Americans were free from slavery, yet trying to find their identity. For many, being a slave was their identity and this song gave them a sense of pride in themselves, their culture and their newfound freedom.
Due to its inspirational lyrics, Lift Every Voice and Sing became popular worldwide. It expanded throughout the southern states of the United States to Japan and South America. The popularity of the song died down after the Civil Rights movement and was replaced with “We Shall Overcome” but the title of Black National Anthem remained with Lift Every Voice and Sing.
The Importance of the Anthem today
PBS states, “today, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is one of the most cherished songs of the African American Civil Rights movement”. The anthem still plays an important role in African American culture. One can hear this song being played in many schools and churches across the country today in celebration of Black History Month. Its lyrics continue to bring hope to African Americans who are still fighting for peace, change, and equality.
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.
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