“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938. Poet, novelist, statesman, civil rights leader, lawyer. Artist, Winold Reiss (1886-1953). Pastel on artist board.

The song dubbed “The Black National Anthem” should need no introduction, but I learned last October–moments after I posted an article focused on the University of Florida’s playing the song at the arrival of white supremacists on campus–that many Americans are not familiar with the song. In fact, one (Euro-American) friend uncharacteristically responded by declaring UF’s actions “racist.”

[We’ll save discussion about how that action could not have been “racist” for another time].

My friend’s judgment was based on the title of the article. She had never heard the song.

That surprised me. I’m pretty sure I initially learned the song at the majority white elementary school I attended, so I assumed it was standard for elementary kids in the U.S. Not so, I guess.

So what is the “Black National Anthem?”

The  “song,” actually entitled “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was written as a poem by African American poet James Weldon Johnson to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It was later set to music by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson.

The song gained popularity, was adopted by the NAACP, and was dubbed “The Black National Anthem.” But if we pay close attention to the lyrics, we’ll find that even though the song resonates with African Americans, it speaks to a broad American experience, one that in spite of its “informal” title, celebrates our collective history, freedom, and unity, one that speaks of faith and hope. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” feels more inclusive than the official national anthem of the U.S.A., “The Star Spangled Banner.”

I invite you to read the lyrics.

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 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,
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 hast 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.

Then, listen to this amazing arrangement sung by the “Choir of the World,” the Aeolians of Oakwood University:

See the Poetry Foundation for a a brief biography which references James Weldon Johnson’s extensive bibliography. A favorite for many is God’s Trombones.

Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month, and “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance”

Did you see yesterday’s (February 1) Google doodle? The doodle appropriately featured “The Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson, and, when clicked, provided links to the many articles and websites focused on Woodson.

If you missed it, here it is [image links to Google search on Woodson].

Google Doodle by Artist Shannon Wright

Woodson was concerned about the role of African Americans in history. He wrote of the history and hoped to “lift the veil of ignorance.” His work, The Miseducation of the Negro (1933), which critiques the American educational system for its failures to include accurate and deep attention to Black history, is still relevant, valued reading at many colleges and universities. He founded the Association of Negro Life and History (now, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) and launched Black History Week which later expanded into Black History Month.

Every February, we face the same questions about why there is a need for Black History Month (BHM); we endure the same declarations that BHM is “racist,” or that it valorizes one “race” over another. It’s frustrating to hear these statements year after year after year; they unveil a myopic view of the USA and its peoples that rejects any well-reasoned response.

As many times as we’ve explained that American history, as typically taught, erases the full participation of nonwhites from the narratives, some people simply can’t/don’t/won’t get it. They continue to rant and rave that if “African Americans contributed, then they’d be in our history books.”

I no longer waste my energy.

If our schools offered comprehensive study and examination of American history–that included the contributions of all Americans–perhaps, there would be a reason for the question.

But they don’t.

Even with BHM, the same names are repeated with little attention to the broader work, contributions, struggles, and progress of African Americans.

Boondocks Comic Strip, Aaron McGruder, February 8, 2000.

Another point many people miss is that BHM is not a “national holiday for Blacks only.”  It provides an opportunity for all Americans to educate themselves on the work of African Americans who have “made history” because of their contributions in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), medicine, music, literature, law, philosophy, dance, psychology, social justice, athletics, and so much more.

[I found the cartoon above on an IG page. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the original author. Forgive the misspelling of “y’all,” but please don’t miss the point].

Instead of writing for pages about why we still need Black History Month in the USA, I’ll leave you with a few links to articles that provide background information and that sufficiently make the point.

And for laughs–or a good cry–check out the brilliant and (necessarily?) irreverent satire of Aaron McGruder on Black History Month: Black History Month in “The Boondocks.”

Until next time…

The Fortunate One: St. Josephine Bakhita

Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself, ‘Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?’ I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage.    –St. Josephine Bakhita

Today’s “Focus on Black” post comes because I was a little surprised to learn that many people I spoke with could not name one Black saint, though even if not Catholic, they knew the names of European saints. Indeed, the only individuals I spoke to who knew about Black saints were two students who attended Catholic primary and secondary schools.

So, though there are many Black saints, today I’m introducing you to St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), Patron Saint of the Sudan.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, 2003. Oil on canvas. Artist, Janet McKenzie

We know very little about Bakhita’s early life, but she was born into a prominent family in the western Darfur region of Sudan. Her path to sainthood began with terror:

She and a friend were walking through a field in her native Sudan when she was abducted by armed slave traders.  She was so terrified upon capture that she forgot her name. The slavers called her “Bakhita,” which means fortunate.

Bakhita endured terrible cruelty at the hands of a succession of owners. Her fortunes truly changed when she was

purchased by Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who treated her with kindness and respect. Legani left her with a friend, Augusto Michieli, and his wife in Italy.  Bakhita served as caretaker of their newborn daughter, Mimmina.  When business required the Michielis to travel, they entrusted the girls to the Canossia Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice. There, Bakhita came to understand the God who had given her the fortitude to overcome the hardships of slavery. After several months, she received the sacraments of initiation and was given the name Josephine. She remained with the Sisters and served as a nun for the rest of her life, beloved for her kindness to children and visitors to the Institute.  When she died her body was displayed for several days as thousands came to pay their respects. –from 365 Days of Black History, I Only Know the Story

St. Josephine Bakhita, the first saint of Sudan, was canonized–made a saint–on October 1, 2000.

At her canonization ceremony, Pope John II said of her:

In today’s world, countless women continue to be victimized, even in developed modern societies. In St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.

To learn more, see:

For more black saints, see:

Until next time…

 

All Hail the Queen!

Last week, when my son and I were going through books and other materials looking for “the perfect” historical figure for his Black History Month project, we stumbled upon the beautiful portrait of “Queen Charlotte of England.” Though he did not choose her (no surprise there), he suggested that she should be the focus of my next weekly Black focus blog post.

He chose well.

After all the hoopla made over Prince Harry’s choosing Meghan Markle, a bi-racial American, as his princess, I realized that many people are not aware that Markle wouldn’t be the first “African-descended” woman to become British royalty.

You didn’t know?  Well, let me introduce you to Queen Charlotte of England.

Queen Charlotte 1744-1818, Portrait by Allan Ramsay

My 2005 agenda–too useful and beautiful to toss–365 Days of Black History, provides enough basic details about Queen Charlotte:

At the age of 17, Charlotte Sophia of Germany impressed King George III with a letter she wrote to the king of Prussia about political concerns in her area. On the urging of his mother, George sent for Charlotte. Immediately upon her arrival in England, critics focused on her African features. Horace Walpole wrote: “Nostrils spreading too wide. Mouth has the same fault.” Baron Stockmar, the queen’s personal physician, described her as “having a true mulatto face.”

Research by historian and genealogist Mario Valdes showed that Queen Charlotte’s ancestry can be traced to Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black member of the Portuguese Royal House. It is probable that Charlotte’s family was descended from the black mistress of Portugal’s King Alfonso III.

Queen Charlotte married George in 1761, bore her husband 15 children, and assumed charge of the household when George became permanently disabled in 1810.  Although she never set foot on America’s shores, several U.S. cities and counties bear her name.

You can find more about Queen Charlotte’s racial lines on PBS’s FrontlineThe Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families: Queen Charlotte or on the African American Registry site. For more portraits check out the National Portrait Gallery.

Queen Charlotte was an avid letter writer–my kind of queen! Her letters reveal a great deal more about her than the facts presented above, so check them out.

All hail Queen Charlotte!

Note: 365 Days of Black History (2005) by IOKTS Productions, published by Pomegranate.

Happy Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

“Freedom from Slavery.” This statue, celebrating the end of slavery, was gifted to Gorée Island as a symbol of friendship between Guadeloupe and Africa. Photo shot in 2004 with an Olympus Camedia, my first “real” digital camera. 🙂

Happy New Year! I realize today is January 1 and New Year’s greetings are resounding throughout the world. January 1 means a clean slate, a fresh start, a brand new year to get some things done and get some other things right.  In those various ventures, I “wish above all that you would prosper and be in good health” [3 John 2].

January 1 is significant for other reasons. Foremost in my mind is that on this date in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation put the United States of America on the road to truly becoming the “land of the free.” Of course, it was–and continues to be–a long, hard road to realizing what it means that “all [humans] are created equal” and are “endowed with certain inalienable rights.”

And yes, I’m aware there was an “earlier attempt” at issuing the Proclamation and that Lincoln’s signing of it had less to do with his concern about the plight of enslaved persons in the USA and more to do with using [newly] freed Blacks to help win the Civil War and thus save the Union. But here we are, 155 years later, with no sanctioned slavery–or owning of human chattel–in the USA.

Because I have little choice, I’ve been thinking a lot about race in the United States. More so, since an “innocent” post on my Facebook page a few months ago led to a  word-battle between one of my Euro-American friends and a couple of my African American friends. That “dialogue,” which I eventually shut down by closing comments on the post, underscored how little “mainstream” Americans know about African American life and history, but it also revealed how our thinking on all sides reduces the other to a “single story.”

One of the problems with race as a construct is that we think we know each other. We have ideas that black people are…red people are…white people are…brown people are…yellow people are…We believe we know what individuals are all about on first sight of skin tone. This hurts us as a [human] race inexplicably and explains for the most part why the world is in such shape.

When I was in graduate school, another student in the class told me that “African Americans should get their own culture” in response to my presentation of a project for a course on modern theory–a hypertext “rewriting” of James Joyces’ Ulysses that makes the book relatable to people of color. Imagine my chagrin when little more than a decade later I heard those words echoed in my own classroom–addressed to the African American students in my class–via teleconference with students from University of Colorado-Boulder.

That statement underscores not only how little these individuals know about African American contributions and influences but also how much as Americans we are told/taught/convinced that anything that’s white is American and everything else is subculture, subpar, and inessential to the American landscape and character.

So…I’ve made a decision about my blog for this year. In addition to getting caught up on the “to be blogged” list of 2017, continuing to do Microblog Mondays, and all the other snail mail and photography randomness, I’m going to dedicate one post per week to Black history, culture, life, and politics.

That starts with today…So if you didn’t know before, now you know…There’s a special reason why African Americans and all other Americans should celebrate January 1. In fact, I’m convinced this should be bigger than “the fourth of July.”

Happy Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation!

Guest Post: “The Moral Moment” by Dr. Blue

As much as I would love to use today’s blog post to write about fun and lighthearted things as we enter the weekend, my heart has been heavy all week. We began classes for the semester a few days ago, but just before my first class, I ran across a photo snapped on the first day of class a couple of years ago–a sidewalk chalk protest: Mike Brown should be on his way to class too.

“Mike Brown should be on his way to class too.”

As I tried desperately to block out Charlottesville, Virginia and a failure of leadership to provide a moral response, I felt the chilling reality that this could have been Brown’s senior year in college deep in my soul. I voted Tuesday with no hope. It was just part of the process, my right as an American citizen, my duty as an African American. All week, I listened to children who are afraid and talked to students who are now very watchful and careful about their surroundings in a southern city where sightings of the confederate flag is not uncommon.

The question that came up time and time again, “What do we do?” What can we do?

Today’s post (which begins below) was written by Dedrick Blue, D.Min, Dean of Religion and Theology at Oakwood University. In response to the events of the last week, Blue calls us to reach inside and decide what we will do. The question is not “what can we do?” The question, he points out, is “what will I do?” We must answer that question for ourselves and make the decision to act.

***      ***      ***

Each of us will come to a moment in our lives when moral decency will beg for response. These are times of great moral and spiritual crises that test our metal and our faith. These defining moments shape history and shape our personal history. We have come to that moment.

As our nation grieves over the tragic events in Charlottesville, VA which left three dead and 19 injured at the hands of violent-sanctioned white supremacy, we are obliged to pause and reflect upon the meaning of the moment.

While some may argue over whether a Confederate statue should survive, be clear that was not the issue. The issue is whether people–black, brown, yellow, red, Jew, Muslim–should survive. The statue is just a symbol of the genocide perpetrated by white supremacy upon people of color and those not conforming to white Protestant, Anglo-Saxon phenotype.  Those white supremacists are unequivocal in their assertion that the inanimate statue has a greater right to American soil than breathing persons of color. They assert that the history of white supremacy and genocide is the true history of America. In this, they are both right and wrong. Rebellion and genocide are part of our history, but they are not to be our trajectory or our destiny. And certainly, genocide is not to be memorialized as something noble.

Our great Republic has never been perfect. And yet, this nation with Her hands and conscience soiled by chattel slavery, chose to repudiate Her past and march forward toward a more perfect union. This of course was not without costs. Our nation lost nearly a million of its citizens in a Civil War. The backlash from Reconstruction gave birth to Jim Crow and “strange fruit on southern trees.” Churches were bombed, buses were burned, leaders were assassinated, children were incarcerated and voters were intimidated in this march toward a more perfect union. Like Abel, the blood of those sacrifices cry out for justice from America’s soil, and plead that those sacrifices be not in vain.

Now we have come to this moment in our nation’s history, when the President of these United States has chosen to ignore the sacrifices of our bloody, glorious past. My first reaction is to say that he seeks to resurrect the demons of racism and white supremacy. However, truth be told, that ghoulish specter has never ceased to stalk our heels, and continues to lurk in our bedrooms and boardrooms. That poltergeist shoots down unarmed boys in the street, snatches healthcare from senior citizens, sits in legislative councils, and rewards robber barons with tax cuts. And now in this moment, we see our President acting as a medium to call up and invite that demon to sit at his welcome table.

Let us be clear. This is a pivotal moment in American history. It is a moment when this nation will either rise once more and strive toward her credo that “all men are created equal” or will slither back into the quagmire of its racist history.

But this is not just a pivotal moment for America. It is a pivotal moment for each citizen of America. For what is America if it is not each of us? America is not just a government; it is a people bound together by constitution and geography, but even more importantly, bound together by ideal. This moment now tests not only the government but also that ideal. We as a nation and as a people are challenged in this moral moment to vociferously repudiate the demons of white supremacy. We must not be silent now. We cannot run for cover or place our proverbial head in the proverbial sand and pretend that if we ignore it, it does not exist.

Neither can we retreat into apocalyptic passivism which takes the position that all these things are just signs of the end and Jesus will fix it all when He returns. If we choose to be silent now then, we do so at the peril of our souls. For our streets are stained with blood, our children cower in fear, and evil parades with torches of terror in our parks. Real people are dying.

To call upon our God to act, but refuse to act when God calls is spiritual schizophrenia at best and downright hypocrisy at worst. The God we serve is not only moved by injustice but moves against injustice. The examples are replete in Scripture. I need not repeat the stories of God’s intervention for the slaves of Egypt; His denunciations of oppression in the Book of Micah; or His admonition in the Torah to embrace the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

God acts!

We also learn from Scripture that in the time of moral and spiritual crisis, God not only moves into action but He also moves people into action. Moses had to agree to go to the most powerful ruler in the world and demand release of the Hebrew captives. In another era, God called upon a woman named Esther to reveal to the king a wicked plot to destroy the Jews perpetrated by the racist Haman.

God moves against injustice, but He uses people as His agents. And each of person has to come to that moral moment when he/she has to decide that the call and the cause are greater than the comfort of willful ignorance.

Every generation must face its moral moment. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced the moral moment on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rosa Parks faced the moral moment on the back of a bus. Heather Heyer faced the moral moment on a back street in Charlottesville.

This now is our moral moment. We must choose to hear the call and choose a response. The call comes to each of us in a different way. I dare not be so bold as to declare how God speaks and how He speaks to you. But I will be so bold as to say that God does speak and He always looks for a response.

One of America’s greatest statesmen, Dr. Martin Luther King, declared:

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Moral decency demands a response!

–Dr. Dedrick Blue, Dean of Religion and Theology, Oakwood University

Photo from Pixabay

Hello Beautiful!

“Hello Beautiful,” by Timree

I sent the final letters for Love Notes 20 this morning. Sigh. I’ll send postcards periodically to my Love Notes pals while we wait for the next round, but the return to work tomorrow and preparation for the 2017-18 academic year means I must take a short break from my role as a snail mail revolutionary and focus on the life of the mind.

As you may recall from earlier posts:

Love Notes is a postcard project coordinated by Jennifer Belthoff that “encourages slowing down, getting back to basics, and connecting through handwritten notes sent through the mail.” Participants sign up for the swap on Jennifer’s website and then she assigns partners–notified via email–who correspond with each other for three weeks based on a prompt she provides each Sunday.

The prompts for this round were provided by Mindy T of Embody Love Movement. Each prompt provided participants with the opportunity to reflect and share with their partners. I plan to use today’s microblog and the next two “Microblog Mondays” to share the cards and messages I received from my assigned partner and the kind souls who sent beautiful reflections out of the goodness of their hearts.

The first prompt was “Hello beautiful…”

Being told we are beautiful makes a tremendous impact on our mental, physical, and emotional health, so I can only imagine the good vibes that reverberated throughout the world as Love Notes participants retrieved postcard after postcard, note after note, letter after letter that began with the words, “Hello Beautiful!”

My partner, Jenni P, sent a postcard from the “Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site.”

From the postcard back: Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site preserves the 19th-century home of Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, father and stepmother of our 16t president. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer living in Springfield by the time his parents moved here, but his burgeoning law practice often brought him to Charleston and the farm, especially during the 1840s. Abraham Lincoln also owned a portion of the farm which he deeded back to his father and step-mother for their use during their lifetime. Today, Lincoln Log Cabin is an 86 acre historic site that includes an accurate reproduction of the Lincolns’ two-room cabin which was reconstructed on the original cabin site in 1935-1936 as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. A working, living history farm has been developed around the cabin. The site also includes the Moore Home, where Lincoln bid farewell to his family in 1861 before leaving to assume the Presidency, and the grave sites of Thomas and Sarah Lincoln at the Thomas Lincoln Cemetery. For more information, go to www. lincolnlogcabin.org.

Jenni has no knowledge of my love for purple, so it was a nice coincidence to find the purple flowers in the photo. Her message:

Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks, not in what they say. Just in what they are. –Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger

Andrea F, whose work you’ve seen recently in a “summertime post,” graced my mailbox with a collage of “happy red postcards.”

Collage, “Happy Red Postcards,” by Andrea F.

She wrote that the collage is a compilation of postcards from some “beautiful happy moments” in her life she wishes to share.  She closed the note simply–

Be beautiful.

Lori W’s cute chipmunk gave me the “warm fuzzies.”  The little critter comes from Animal Box: A Collection of 100 Animal Postcards.

“Chipmunk,” 1990. By David Howell. Originally published in Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York by Susan Allport

Her message–

Hello beautiful! Rest your heart on the ultimate certainty–you are loved!

Isn’t it so that when we walk in this truth (knowing we are loved) we are indeed more beautiful–inside and out?

I did the happy mail dance when I pulled the cards from Christine B and Connie F from the mailbox. Why? They both sent sunflowers! Christine sent a bouquet of sunflowers embellished with washi tape and paper accents.

“Sunflowers seem to be always smiling.”  Photo postcard by Christine B.

She counseled:

Be true to who you are and smile. It’s the prettiest thing you can wear.

Connie designed “one of a kind” cards for some of us in the group. I was simply speechless when I pulled her card out of the envelope. Everything about this card made my heart sing–the sunflowers, the washi tape, the tiny mirrors, and the heartfelt message. [Photo does no justice].

“Hello Beautiful,” crafted by Connie F.

There are many beautiful people in the world.  Never forget you are one of them.  I hope you feel beautiful today! If you start to wonder what beautiful looks like, check the mirror.

My own message, drawn from a wall sticker in my home office, “Be your own kind of beautiful,” encouraged my postcard pals to embrace their unique light and shine on!

Just yesterday, I happily found a package of “Hello Beautiful” notecards (top) designed by Timree that I purchased some time ago. They’re too pretty to remain stored in my stuffed box of stationery, so I plan to write to some of my sisterfriends and remind them of their beauty.

If you were to write a “hello beautiful” message today, to whom would you write and what would you say?