James Weldon Johnson’s, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

0 Posted by - October 15, 2023 - Black History, BLACK MEN, LATEST POSTS

 The birth of Lift Every Voice and Sing

“A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children.
Shortly afterward my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.
The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.”
~James Weldon Johnson

Lift Every 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.
-James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson was an early civil rights activist, a leader of the NAACP, and a leading figure in the creation and development of the Harlem Renaissance.
Johnson was born on June 17, 1871, in Jacksonville, Florida. He was a civil rights activist, writer, composer, politician, educator and lawyer, as well as one of the leading figures in the creation and development of the Harlem Renaissance.
After graduating from Atlanta University, Johnson worked as a principal in a grammar school, founded a newspaper, The Daily American, and became the first African American to pass the Florida Bar.
During the 1900s, James and his brother, John, wrote the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which would later become the official anthem of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (The Johnson brothers would go on to write more than 200 songs for the Broadway musical stage.) Johnson then moved to New York and studied literature at Columbia University, where he met other African-American artists. Some of Johnson’s most recognized published literary work include The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and God’s Trombones (1927). Johnson died on June 26, 1938, in Wiscasset, Maine.


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