The Black National Anthem
The hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is known as the Negro or Black National Anthem. It places emphasis on the history of black people in America, a history that includes many triumphs and struggles. This great song is known across the world, but the history behind the song’s creation and first performance is often unknown. Therefore, read further and reflect on the meaning of this hymn.
James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the words, was born in 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was a principal, poet, novelist, anthologist, lyricist, lawyer, professor at Fisk University, and a lover of the spirituals. He was the first African American to be admitted to the Florida bar in 1897. He and his younger brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), a musician, wrote musical comedies and operas, but their best-known composition is “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” This song was written for a presentation in celebration of the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln and as a special tribute to honor almost forty years of freedom for black people in America. It was first performed on February 12, 1900 by a children’s choir in Jacksonville, Florida.
James Weldon Johnson went on to become United States Consul to Venezuela in 1906 and to Nicaragua in 1909. In 1913, he became the editor of the
New York Age. He was also the first executive secretary of the NAACP. Johnson’s other writings include the anthology The Book of American Negro Spirituals in 1925, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse in 1927
In 1988 the United States Postal Service issued a 22 cents commemorative stamp (the eleventh in the Black Heritage Series) in honor of this Renaissance Man.
Note: This memo was adapted from one of Sunday-bulletin inserts in January 2007 at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dayton, Ohio. Reportedly, Pastor Beth Holten copied this memo from the website of The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship, but it is not found anymore. However a related page can be found at:
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