February 12, 2020 marks the 120th anniversary of the song Lift Every Voice and Sing. Often called “The Black National Anthem”, Lift Every Voice and Sing was written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. The song was first performed in public in the Johnsons’ hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.
Lift Every Voice and Sing has been a staple musical celebration of Black excellence and pride for the past 120 years. Our family adores the picture book entitled Sing a Song written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Keith Mallett. Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations and song lyrics, the book is a beautiful reminder that each generation has had to “lift” their own voices to demand and protect their rights.
So how can you celebrate and acknowledge the anniversary of this important song? You can begin by teaching your children, grandchildren or students the the history and meaning behind the Black National Anthem. I also encourage reading an #ownvoices book that accurately depicts the history of the song. Including Sing a Song, there are other picture books you can read like: Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, Lift Every Voice and Sing, Lift Every Voice and Sing illustrated by Bryan Collier, or Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Pictorial Tribute to the Negro National Anthem.
You can also download the Sing a Song activity sheet that goes along with the book written by Kelly Starling Lyons. Click here to download.
Watch a video about the song like this one shown below.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til 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 ’til 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,
‘Til 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.