black national anthem
Linocut carvings by Elizabeth Catlett
In 1899, James Weldon Johnson was a principal at Stanton Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. The school, in keeping with the time period, was segregated; only Black students attended. The school was planning for an upcoming celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, and James Weldon Johnson wrote a poem in commemoration. He then gave the poem to his brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson, who set the poetry to music. The resulting song, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," was publicly performed for the first time on February 12, 1900, by five hundred children. The Johnson brothers' song spread on popularity, first through the South and then to the whole country. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People eventually adopted it as the official African American National Anthem. Today, the song is often heard in schools and churches, at celebrations and protests across the country.
Lift Every Voice and Sing (1900)
Words: James Weldon Johnson
Music: John Rosamond Johnson
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 faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory 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 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 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.