Black History: Special Delivery!!

 

james weldon johnson
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900 as a poem. It was later set to music by his brother Rosamond Johnson.

In 1900, “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, was written by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), a high school principal in Jacksonville, FL. Johnson was an educator, lawyer, diplomat, writer, and civil rights activist. He was a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson attended Atlanta University. Upon graduation, he was the first African American to pass the Florida Bar Exam. Johnson eventually became a grammar school principal.

Lift Every Voice and Sing was written to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. It was originally written as a poem, but was then set to music by Rosamond Johnson (brother of James Weldon Johnson). The song became extremely popular within the black community and was adopted by the NAACP as, “The Black National Anthem”. Johnson and his brother would continue their musical collaboration writing over 200 songs for Broadway musicals.

In 1906, Johnson was appointed as a diplomat to Venezuela by President Roosevelt. In 1912, he, anonymously published, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”. It was the story of a black musician who rejects his roots in exchange for living a life of comfort. When he returned to the U.S. in 1914, he became a national organizer for the NAACP. He retired from the NAACP in 1930. Johnson also published, “God’s Trombones” in 1927. This book chronicled, his impressions of the rural south.   In 1934, he became the first black professor at New York University.

African American sculptor, August Savage created a sculpture inspired, by “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for the 1939 World’s Fair.  Known, as “The Harp”,  the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” were inscribed in the sculpture.

augusta savage
“The Harp” Sculpture created by Augusta Savage for the 1939 World’s Fair. It is also referred to as, Lift Every Voice and Sing because the song lyrics are inscribed on the sculpture

Johnson died in a car accident in 1938 at the age of 67. Over 2,000 people attended his funeral.

Lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” are listed below. Check out a video of Aretha Franklin singing the song.

 

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lyrics:

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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