Celebrating Juneteenth today: “Lift Every Voice and Sing”
June 19, 2021
On Juneteenth, we’re sharing some of the facts our program learned about the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem.
In conversations with Latham’s Juneteenth Celebration speaker Arthur Gregg (Latham friend, expert in Juneteenth, and Assistant Vice President of the Multicultural Center at The University of Texas at Dallas), he taught us about this amazing song and the true meaning behind it. When discussing his June 21st introductory remarks, he explained, “When I researched the meaning of the song Lift Every Voice and Sing, I became more learned. Each section has a different meaning; the first stanza is sung in a lively manner, the second is sung more slowly, and finally, the third is actually a prayer.”
The NAACP says, “Often referred to as ‘The Black National Anthem,’ Lift Every Voice and Sing was a hymn written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900. His brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), composed the music for the lyrics. A choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal, first performed the song in public in Jacksonville, Florida to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. At the turn of the 20th century, Johnson’s lyrics eloquently captured the solemn yet hopeful appeal for the liberty of Black Americans” (https://naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/lift-every-voice-and-sing).
The first two stanzas can be read below:
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.