Black History Month: Lift Every Voice and Sing

James Weldon Johnson wrote Lift Every Voice and Sing, the national anthem to millions of Black Americans.  He wrote his famous poem in 1900 and his talented brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music. 

Lyrics – 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 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 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 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.


James Weldon Johnson distinguished himself equally as a man of letters and as a civil rights leader in the early decades of the twentieth century. A talented poet and novelist, Johnson is credited with bringing a new standard of artistry and realism to black literature in such works as The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and God’s Trombones

Songwriter, poet, novelist, journalist, critic, and autobiographer. James Weldon Johnson, much like his contemporary W. E. B. Du Bois, was a man who bridged several historical and literary trends. Born in 1871, during the optimism of the Reconstruction period, in Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson was imbued with an eclectic set of talents. Over the course of his sixty-seven years, Johnson was the first African American admitted to the Florida bar since the end of Reconstruction; the co-composer (with his brother John Rosamond) of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ the song that would later become known as the Negro National Anthem; field secretary in the NAACP; journalist; publisher; diplomat; educator; translator; librettist; anthologist; and English professor; in addition to being a well-known poet and novelist and one of the prime movers of the Harlem Renaissance. 

Sources: Poetryfoundation.org – Exploring Florida – A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers – Modern American Poetry, Herman Beavers

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