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The Story Behind the Black National Anthem

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The Black National Anthem is undoubtedly a staple song that celebrates black pride and brilliance in surviving and thriving in the United States of America.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is special for every African American and its background is absolutely fascinating, telling a story of struggle, triumph, and freedom.

The History of “Life Every Voice and Sing”

The song started as a poem written by two brothers: James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond JohnsonThey grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, but had to leave their birthplace and move to Atlanta for schooling because there were no schools for African Americans in Jacksonville.

While in Atlanta, both supported themselves by washing dishes in restaurants. After graduation, they returned to Jacksonville and got employed by the then-established all black Stanton School.

In 1900, James Weldon Johnson wrote the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to introduce Booker T. Washington, a renowned educator who visited the school.

The poem was first recited by 500 school children as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Later on, J. Rosamond Johnson put the lyrics to music and turned it into a song.

In 1919, the NAACP adopted “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as its official “Negro national anthem.” Brooke T. Washington’s political writing gift was later manifested in organizing the The Silent Parade of 1917. 

A remake was done in the 1990s by various R&B artists like Bobby Brown, Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder, and Dionne Warwick. One of its stanzas was even recited during President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

A Symbol of Unity 

The song is written in a very intentional and definite manner and comprises of three stanzas. The first stanza is focused on rejoicing, the second one is sad as it depicts slavery and the scars it had left; the third stanza moves from the joyous description of the first through the sadness of the second and into the anticipation of God’s continuous guidance.

It’s important to mention that there are no personal pronouns in this song; the words ‘us’, ‘we’, and ‘our’ suggest unity.

RELATED: 21 Black Heroes They Failed to Mention in School

The black national anthem is certainly powerful, talks about staying hopeful, fighting for justice, and knowing the struggle our ancestors endured. It’s a song that reminds us how each generation demanded and protected their rights by ‘lifting’ their own voices.

A forever fitting song for blacks in America if there ever was one. 

Here are the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Lift ev’ry 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 chast’ning 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,
Here 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,
everyday we lit
Shadowed beneath thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land


References “J. Rosamond Johnson”

-“Be Still, My Soul: The Inspiring Stories behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns” by Randy Petersen “Obama’s Inaugural Address”