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musings from linda 6/14/24

Updated: Jun 21

On June 17, 1871 — only 6 short years after the Civil War ended —

       JAMES WELDON JOHNSON was born!




*     Author of LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING … the “Black National Anthem”

*     First Black person to head the NAACP, cementing its Black control

*     Organizer of over 10,000 marchers in Silent Protest Parade of 1917 — (first major street protest staged against lynching)

*     First Black professor to teach at N.Y.U.

*     Key figure in the Harlem Renaissance (revival of African American culture, centered in Harlem in the 1920’s and 30’s)

*     Distinguished lawyer, civil rights activist, diplomat, author, poet.

In 1900, Johnson set out to write a poem commemorating Abraham Lincoln, but, being immersed in the ongoing struggle for civil rights at a time when the KKK was riding hard and lynchings and Jim Crow laws were rampant in the South, he  CHANGED HIS MIND — and wrote instead a poem about the struggles of African Americans following the Reconstruction era.  It was called:



… a hymn of thanksgiving as well as of faithfulness and freedom, celebrating HOPE after a cruel and unjust past …  a rallying cry for perseverance and racial justice.

Its influence was strong immediately and it was recited in countless schools and communities — first in the South — then in all parts of the country.  After 5 years, the poem was PUT TO MUSIC composed by Johnson’s brother, J. Rosamund Johnson and by 1917 the NAACP began to promote it as the “Black National Anthem.”

Since that time, it has been the musical inspiration for generations of Black Americans in the never-ending struggle for human rights. Moved by the song, Alberta Savage created a sculpture bearing its name for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York in the form of children shaped into a harp. Sadly, it endured the fate of most temporary installations and was destroyed at the conclusion of the fair.                        

But the song continues to THRIVE!!!  — and legislation has very recently been proposed in Congress that would make it a companion anthem to “The Star’s Spangled Banner.” Click on one (or both!) of these links to listen to a rendition of this powerful anthem... one of them is accompanied by the text and also includes images of Martin Luther King;

The other is an exquisite performance by the a cappella octet, COMMITTED:  

We will all be singing it this Sunday in church — in recognition of Juneteenth which is next Wednesday, June 19.  Let the words speak to your heart ; they are just as relevant today as they were 100 years ago…


Lift every voice and sing til earth and heaven ring 

Ring with the harmonies of liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies

Let it resound as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of 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!

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