Lift Every Voice and Sing (ELW 841)
1 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.
2 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 people 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.
3 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.
We sang this hymn, known as the Black National Anthem, as part of our commemoration of Juneteenth. James Wendell Johnson was the principal of Stanton Elementary (a segregated school in Jacksonville, Florida) when in 1900 he wrote this poem for a school assembly celebrating Abraham Lincoln‘s birthday. His brother J. Rosalind Johnson composed the music. A choir of 500 children performed the song.
The Johnson brothers moved on from the song, but those who had sung it that day did not. They kept singing it and sharing it so it became known far beyond Jacksonville. It wasn’t marketed, but it touched hearts, spoke truth, captured imaginations, and thus spread like the good news of the gospel.
One can hear and feel, when played as intended, both lament and hope; sorrow and celebration; cross and resurrection. No wonder people in the Black community had to share it. In 1919 the NAACP adopted it as the organization’s official anthem.
Liberating One, may the fullness of your message capture us as this song did the children who sang it, and may we, in like fashion, share it in such a way that it spreads afar. Amen.