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NAACP History: Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Black National Anthem)

Compiled by the Rev. Debra Straughter

The Harp
“The Harp” (1939)
by Augusta Savage

Lift Every Voice and Sing – often called “The Black National Anthem” – was written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. It was first performed in public in the Johnsons’ hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal. (Scroll for more about Johnson below.)

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” is a song about African Americans violent past and bright future. Weldon wrote this song to shine light on African Americans and their past to show people how determined and strong we are.


“Lift every Voice and Sing” is the Negro National Black Anthem. This song was chosen because Weldon talks about everything that was done wrong to African American Slaves and how they always had faith in god and never forgot where they came from. “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, is a song about African Americans violent past and bright future.Weldon wrote this song to shine light on African Americans and their past to show people how determined and strong we are. “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, affects the whole black community by giving them hope when times are bad and help them understand what there ancesters went threw.The tone and mood changes many times during the song, because Weldon wants us to feel hopeful ,sad ,and thankful.

Let our rejoicing rise.”

These verses have the same tone or mood they give us because Weldon uses figurative language to give us a idea of how we should sing for our ancestors and what happened to them. The first stanza in the song/poem is mostly trying to persuade us that everything is good and nothing bad is going to happen. Weldon sets that tone by telling us to sing and be rejoiceful.

As we start to listen to the second stanza the tone switches to sad, because he starts talking about the African slaves past. In verses 11 & 12 the author uses the shortened version of “Chastening,” and uses the word rod to set a certain tone of triumph or accomplishment. “Stony the road we trod. Bitter the chastening rod. “Trod” means to have walked on something and chastening means scolding or punishing. That quote means that the stick the slave-owners used to beat the slaves was punishing or scolding. Because Weldon uses those words the reader shows empathy for African American slaves, because he’s showing their pain and mistreatment. As the song continues Weldon starts to talk about how sad the Africans were and how they started to think about the future. The tone in verses 16-21 is first sad and tearful then hopeful.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and “Lift Your Voice and Sing” are two very different titles because one word was changed. Because “every” was changed to “your” the purpose of the song changed from everyone singing for happiness to just one person singing for happiness. That one word affects the song by changing who is affected by the song. Weldon uses every us as the listener’s would think the song is going to be about all the African American Slaves and how they was mistreated. If Weldon would ‘ve used the word your us as the listener’s would think the song is going to be about Weldon telling one person to sing for all the African American Slaves. The message the song gives us could be changed because in the original title the word every gives us a message about all the African Americans singing for each other and not just for their own selves. When the title is “Lift Your Voice and Sing”, the message is one person singing for all the other people and their future. Weldon titled the song “Lift Every Voice And Sing” because of the fact that he ‘s telling all blacks to do the same thing. Blacks were told to be quiet when they were slaves;

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til 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 ’til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening 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,
‘Til 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 has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has 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.

More About James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist.

Johnson is widely celebrated for his leadership of the NAACP, where he began working in 1917. In 1920 he was the first African American to be chosen as executive secretary of the organization, effectively the operating officer. He served in that position from 1920 to 1930.
Johnson established his reputation as a writer, and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture.

He was appointed under President Theodore Roosevelt as US consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua for most of the period from 1906 to 1913.
In 1934 he became the first African-American professor to be hired at New York University. Later in life he served as a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University, a historically Black university.

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