On February 12, 1900, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first performed by 500 school children in Jacksonville, Florida to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. James Weldon Johnson wrote the words and his brother, Rosamond wrote the music. As the story goes, the brothers moved to New York City soon after and eventually forgot about the song. But, not the school children who continued to sing it and when they grew up, taught it to other school children. By the 1920s children and adults were singing the song all over the South as well as in other parts of the country.
It is one of the most beautiful and moving songs I know. There are countless versions of it available on YouTube. There’s an especially beautiful arrangement by Roland Carter and Delaware State University and Lincoln University choirs sound amazing! But I’ll admit, I’m partial to the traditional version, which you can hear sung by the choir and congregation at the historic Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, DC.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Lift ev’ry 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.