“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.

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!

The Ripple Effect: Sharing Kindness with Our Words

Last week ended with my feeling “less than kind,” so I’m happy to revisit the postcards I received for prompt two of Love Notes 20 to increase and fortify my kindness quotient. The prompt was “Share kindness…” I know. I know. I’ve done a number of kindness posts recently–eight, to be exact–but there’s so much more to share on the topic.

My partner, Jenni P, sent another postcard from the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. I’m convinced someone had a talk with her about my postcard “likes.”

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site

She loves Mother Teresa, so she wrote a MT quote as her message:

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.  –Mother Teresa

Christine must have been peeking over her shoulder because their messages “echo” each other!

“Share Kindness,” postcard crafted by Christine B.

Connie F sent photo inspiration, featuring another favorite–trees.

“Roots in All Direction,” photo by Connie F.

A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions and the roots spring up and make trees. –Amelia Earhart

I love how Connie completed the prompt:

Sharing kindness has a ripple effect. We never know how far a kind word or gesture will go.

Lastly, my Austrian postcard pal, Andrea F, crafted a tag postcard featuring a photo of a quirky mailbox. I’m slightly amazed that she sent it “naked” (with no envelope) and it made it to me in almost pristine condition.

“Kindness and Confetti,” postcard made by Andrea F.

She reminded me to “throw kindness like confetti” and to toss a little in the direction of myself–which is the sentiment written on the back of the postcards I sent.

As for my part, I “crafted” a “minimalist” postcard. That’s what I’m calling it, at least. I cut leftover white cardstock down to 4×6, printed a kindness scripture onto the cards, used the Cricut to transform miscellaneous scrapbook paper into hearts, and glued the heart to the cardstock.

“Be Compassionate,” handmade postcard by Me!

Interestingly, within the context–just a few verses before Ephesians 4:32–the instruction is given to:

Let no harmful language come from your mouth, only words that are helpful in meeting the need, words that benefit those who hear them.  –Ephesians 4:29

The compatibility of our messages is uncanny, almost as if we’re sharing one mind on the matter of kindness.

So much unkindness is (typically) rooted in our speech that we must be reminded to be kind with our words and to speak only what “benefits those who hear them.” It takes nothing from us to speak a tender word or encourage someone along the way, but often we behave as if giving to someone takes something from us. Actually, the effect is just the opposite–treating each other with compassion makes room in our hearts to give more and make our world a better place.

It took very little work and very little effort to make my postcard. Likewise, kindness takes little, if any, work and effort.

I’ve made a conscious decision to share kindness with my words and “be generous” with my love to increase my kindness quotient this week. Want to join me?

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?

Sucker Punched by a Postcard

I rarely receive a postcard I don’t like. In fact, I enjoy receiving postcards that share a little about the history of a place.  In spite of my appreciation for history and culture, there are historical and cultural postcards I would not be too excited about receiving–those that valorize racism, sexism, homophobia, and anything that is psychologically or emotionally harmful or that glorify horrific parts of a nation’s past.

I’ll admit it. The sender is one of my favorite postcard pals and I love receiving mail from her, but I raised my eyebrows at the sepia postcard from the “Old West Collectors Series” I received a few days ago–Buffalo Bill Cody.

William F. Cody/Buffalo Bill Cody, 1846-1917

Then, I read the description:

Hunter, scout, indian [sic] fighter; Buffalo Bill romanticized the West in his Wild West Show that toured through the Eastern U.S. and Europe. This photo of the colorful character was taken in El Paso in 1915 by Feldman Studio.

Are you kidding me? Indian fighter?! This postcard felt like a sucker punch. I mentioned this to my hubby–a history buff–and he responded, “That’s not who he really was.”  I’ve paid very little attention to anything having to do with the “wild west,” since most of what I’ve seen in the long ago past of my childhood only perpetuated stereotypes about minorities and women in this country.

But this was worth exploring.  Maybe, I was too hasty.

My search led me to a PBS biography and Corrie N. Cody’s Travel Blog, part of the Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country’s website for tourists. The post separated the man from the myth and I found that the values of the real life person may have very little to do with the values of the “image” or character.

Here are three of the “Top 10 Things You Don’t Know About Buffalo Bill”:

  1. Known as a fearless Indian fighter, Cody respected — and advocated for the rights of — American Indians and once said, “Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.”
  2. Cody was an ardent supporter of women’s rights and insisted on equal pay for all members of his traveling shows, regardless of gender. “What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have,” he said. “Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay.”
  3. Cody’s family was Quaker and opposed slavery. When Cody was a young child, the family moved from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, a hotbed of conflict between slavery advocates and abolitionists. While giving an antislavery speech at a local trading post, Cody’s father Isaac was stabbed twice by an angry man in the crowd.

Although I still have some reservations, I’m happy to find that Buffalo Bill is not everything I thought he was. I can find some reasons to appreciate the postcard after all.

You can find out more about Buffalo Bill Cody by following any of the links above.

Have you been duped by television and legend?  Are there some history makers out there you’ve ignored because you thought they were less than positive?  Do tell!

Postcards for Me and One for You Too!

I have postcards everywhere. On my desk. In my notebooks. On my walls. In my crafting spaces. On my bookshelves. In albums. Even on my nightstand. We won’t talk about the very large box and shelves filled with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of blank postcards waiting to be sent.  I’m presently looking at the mini stack of postcards I received in March, particularly the selected-based-on-my-interests postcards I found in my mailbox last week.

In honor of my love for history…

Scituate Light (Cedar Point), Scituate, MA. A historic light of the War of 1812. The lighthouse is located at the entrance to the harbor and offers a beautiful view of the coast and harbor. From Marissa477 on swap-bot.

And my love for books…

“A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” –Carl Sagan. From ShyAnn64 on swap-bot.

And bookish art…

“The Reader,” by W.L. Ramsey from developpeople on swap-bot.

And photography…

George Eastman House, Rochester, New York

And literature…

William Butler Yeats from MJBCoffee on swap-bot

And my favorite place in the world, home…

New Orleans!

New Orleans! from Lazycrochet, who just moved to New Iberia, Louisiana 7 months ago.

And random, “just because” postcards…

Pretty Thank You Note (c) ME, Teachers Pay Teachers. This is the front of the postcard sent by developpeople.

And while I try to figure out what to do with my ever-growing postcard collection, it’s time I send a certain set of postcards out in the mail.

Way back in October 2015, I won a swap-bot giveaway.  Here’s the generous collection of swag put together by one of swap-bot’s founders, Rachel Johnson.

Swap-bot 10th Anniverary Giveaway.

Swap-bot 10th Anniverary Giveaway.

"Swap-bot Swag"

“Swap-bot Swag”

Pencils. Postcards. Stickers. Buttons. Magnets. Enough to make one swoon.

I could share this cute Ernie (the Envie) goodness with other swap-bot members, but I decided to use it to lure…ehem…encourage others, to join the snail mail revolution via swap-bot.

I “discovered” swap-bot almost six years ago when I mistakenly clicked a link that popped up on a website I was visiting.  I hesitated before joining, but I was intrigued by the possibility of regular “real” mail in my mailbox! I clearly remember my first swap–an electronic playlist–and my first Artist Trading Card (ATC) swap.  I signed up when I didn’t even know anything about ATCs.  Pretty soon, I was involved in one creative swap after another, and I was completely hooked and addicted to snail mail.

Maybe, you’ll get hooked on snail mail too. If you comment below with your contact information or email address, I will send you a postcard, written on and stamped. OR–you can contact me at iamnnyla at gmail dot com.  I’ll send postcards until the swap-bot postcards are gone.

Don’t you want a little happy in your mailbox?