The History of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

The History

First published in 1900, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by James Weldon Johnson, a notable novelist, poet, songwriter and lawyer. The poem speaks about the satisfaction African-Americans feel in honor of liberty. It also acknowledges the traumas they faced in the past. Thought it was first written as a poem, it was referenced as the national anthem of the African-American people.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” illustrates Black people’s thoughts about freedom. In the beginning of the song, Literary Devices notes that the speaker provides a “realistic picture of their jubilation and pleasure and illustrates how they enjoyed the golden moments, singing and acknowledging their achievements,” adding that Johnson also dug deeper into the sad history of African-Americans and addresses the struggles and violence Black people faced while they were in slavery. Although they endured so much, they never lost hope.

Author James Weldon Johnson published his first book of poetry in 1917 and was historian of the Harlem Renaissance. (Photo by Charles H. Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Do You Know the Full Song?

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

by James Weldon Johnson

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 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.

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.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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