Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing

Originally entitled the 'The Negro National Anthem' (also referred to as 'The Black National Anthem', or simply by its title), was presented first in 1900 in celebration of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

Its author, James Weldon Johnson is one of America's most higly regarded and beloved authors and poets. This song inspires hope and faith in a future of freedom and opportunity, without denying the dark oppression that has characterized the African-American's history in this country. As one leader has said, this song, 'speaks of black people in American, when America didn't have faith in black people.'

For all the controversy regarding Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction at Barack Obama's inauguration - there was little comment about how he opened the prayer: '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.' It is a stanza from this song, one which many a preacher (myself included) has opened many a public prayer. It speaks to an enduring faith in the power of the Almight to lead us to a future of opportunity and justice.

We're not there yet. But we are so much nearer than we were when this song was written more than 100 years ago.

Below are the words, and below that a powerful rendition for those who have never heard it.


James Weldon Johnson
June 17, 1871 - June 26, 1938

'Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening 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 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 have 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 has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy mightLed 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!

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