“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…

Virginia Woolf Wrote Postcards Too!

Instead of showcasing more children’s book illustration postcards today, as planned, I’ve decided to share a few Virginia Woolf postcards. Why? Because today is Virginia Woolf’s birthday, of course. Now, I know we just celebrated A.A. Milne and Winnie-the-Pooh last week, but rest assured, Pics and Posts will not become the blog that celebrates all the birthdays of all the famous people.

I’ve had some Woolf postcards that have been in the “to be blogged” box for quite some time–so what better time to bring them out than her birthday?

Virginia Woolf. Photograph by George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This postcard comes from a collection I’m not to crazy about because there are too few women and two few people of color. But I do love this “classic” portrait of Woolf.

Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room, 1922. From BIBLIOPHILIA: 100 Literary Postcards, Obvious State Studio, 2015.

The “wild horse” postcard comes from Bibliophilia: 100 Literary Postcards. The collection offers postcards featuring quotes from favorite authors. Most are dead white men, but the quotes and artwork make the omission forgivable.  Somewhat.

Virginia Woolf. Art by Adolfo Falces Delgado. Collection, Literary Celebrities, 2016.

The postcard above is by far the best Virginia Woolf postcard I’ve seen (yet). My friend Cy picked it up for me at a museum in Madrid during her travels last summer.  It has a literary twin that I will share another time.

I didn’t encounter Virginia Woolf till I was working on my master’s degree at the University of Florida (Go Gators!).  I studied her works in both Modern British Literature and Feminist Theories, facilitated by the inimitable Drs. R. Brandon Kershner and Elizabeth Langland, respectively. I appreciated her works–for many “critical” reasons–especially because Woolf and her texts gave me, a person who  studies mental illness in literature, a lot to think about and discuss.

Here are a few of my favorite Woolf quotes– if I can stop at a few!

On madness:

All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.

On bookish people:

When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.”

On women and creativity:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

If you prefer something a bit more “lowbrow” from Woolf, check out her “most savage insults” at the Literary Hub.

Brain Pickings offers a worthwhile read on media’s misinterpretation of Woolf’s suicide letter.   [There are links to other Brain Pickings articles on Woolf, so you might want to check those out too].

And of course, Woolf wrote lots of letters and postcards too! 😉

I’m tempted to dig through my papers and find my essays on Woolf.  I recall taking issue with a section of A Room of One’s Own, but I still appreciate who she was as a writer and thinker.

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.

Other People’s Stories

Railroad Crossing: Shot at a Stoplight

Today, I listened to other people’s stories. Not by choice–mine or theirs. Circumstance required my presence, but I felt like a voyeur, listening in and observing private matters.

One person injured in a failed attempt to rescue someone from a kidnapper. Another the victim of domestic violence. A mom whose inability to say “no” to her son may cost her freedom.

Normal, everyday people whose lives “behind closed doors” rival the most titillating television drama. I sat wondering–not how their lives had gotten to this point, but at how easily a life can get to this point.

We’re all at risk. Not one of us is completely safe. One bad decision, one snap judgment, one wave of compassion or indignation can change the trajectory of a life.

Momentarily.

And that’s the good news. No matter what other people think or how much our lives change, that “one moment” does not define us, does not determine who we are or who we are going to be. The road back to “drama free,” to recovery, to redemption might be long and arduous, but there is a road back, a road away from, or a road forward.

Happy Spring: Education Outdoors

The weather today was (and is) too gorgeous for indoors.  By afternoon, I couldn’t resist, so a couple of my students and I decided to take education outdoors.

English majors discussing issues they’re examining for their final projects.

How did you celebrate the first day of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere)?