The Black National Anthem is undoubtedly a staple song that celebrates black pride and brilliance in surviving and thriving in the United States of America. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is special for every African American and its background is absolutely fascinating, telling a story of struggle, triumph, and freedom.
The song started as a poem written by two brothers: James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson. They grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, but had to leave their birthplace and move to Atlanta for schooling because there were no schools for African Americans in Jacksonville. While in Atlanta, both supported themselves by washing dishes in restaurants. After graduation, they returned to Jacksonville and got employed by the then-established all black Stanton School.
In 1900, James Weldon Johnson wrote the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to introduce Brooke T. Washington, a renowned educator who visited the school. The poem was first recited by 500 school children as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Later on, J. Rosamond Johnson put the lyrics to music and turned it into a song. In 1919, the NAACP adopted “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as its official “Negro national anthem.”
A remake was done in the 1990s by various R&B artists like Bobby Brown, Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder, and Dionne Warwick. One of its stanzas was even recited during President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
The song is written in a very intentional and definite manner and comprises of three stanzas. The first stanza is focused on rejoicing, the second one is sad as it depicts slavery and the scars it had left; the third stanza moves from the joyous description of the first through the sadness of the second and into the anticipation of God’s continuous guidance. It’s important to mention that there are no personal pronouns in this song; the words ‘us’, ‘we’, and ‘our’ suggest unity.
The black national anthem is certainly powerful, talks about staying hopeful, fighting for justice, and knowing the struggle our ancestors endured. It’s a song that reminds us how each generation demanded and protected their rights by ‘lifting’ their own voices.
A forever fitting song for blacks in America if there ever was one.