“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was written by African American poet, novelist, anthologist, diplomat, and civil rights activist, James Weldon Johnson. It was set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, whom he successfully collaborated with to write numerous songs for the Broadway stage. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was originally written in celebration of Lincoln’s birthday, however, it was so popular in the black community that it became known as the “Negro National Anthem,” or the “Black National Anthem.”
Although it is a term coined years after Johnson’s death, I believe James Weldon Johnson was one to embrace the black aesthetic, showing his appreciation for black artists, musicians, and writers by editing such anthologies as The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925). He was also influenced by the black vernacular and black folk life, using them to write serious and thought-provoking verse. Among his many works, he had three books of poetry published: Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917), God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927), and Saint Peter Relates an Incident: Selected Poems (1935).
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 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,
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.
For more information on James Weldon Johnson, you may visit here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/james-weldon-johnson