“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

There seems to be a lot of “hoopla” over the NFL’s decision to have the “Negro National Anthem” sung before every Week 1 game. This holiday weekend is a good to revisit the history of the anthem. Here’s a post I wrote 2.5 years ago about the song. Happy Weekend!

Pics and Posts

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…

View original post 417 more words

In Memoriam: Fallen Soldiers, Lost Love

Photo by Kai Kalhh

“The Sonnet-Ballad” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

“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.

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