Friday, February 08, 2019

A Learning Moment || Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing


It was on this day, December 12th, in 1899, that "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," was written as a poem by the great author civil right activist, and Harlem Renaissance birth-coach James Weldon Johnson (I might be persuaded to do A LEARNING MOMENT on him if y'all feel -- and let me know -- one is needed).

Now considered The Black National Anthem (once The Negro National Anthem), the poem was first performed by 500 school children at Staton Elementary School in Jacksonville, FL (Weldon was the school's principal) on February 12, 1900, in honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday.
In 1905, James Weldon Johnson had his brother J. Rosamond Johnson set the beautiful stirring poetic words to music. 

The song immediately caught that emotional spirit of African-Americans around the country. It was soon being sung in schools throughout the South. (Though, interestingly, not recorded. We had underground even then, yo!)
In 1919, the always modest and unassuming James Weldon Johnson was the NAACP's chief executive officer, but bowing to public pressure he agreed to make his song the NAACP's official song. 

It should be noted, though, that he dubbed the song The Negro National Hymn, not The Negro National Anthem. His reasoning was that he didn't think one country should have two anthems. 

Obviously the public just never agreed.

Two personal things I'd like to share:

One -- I can't sing the last stanza without crying. Not even now.

Two -- I LOVE that he makes no mention of us having to learn to be patriotic or something to America, but in the very last line he urges us to stay "TRUE TO OUR GOD, TRUE TO OUR NATIVE LAND."
(THIS back in 1900. Yeah, James, boy, is my man!)

Here are the lyrics:

Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing

Lift every voice and sing   
Till earth and heaven ring, 
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; 
Let our rejoicing rise 
High as the listening 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 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,   
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.