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Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift Every Voice and Sing -- often called "the Black National Anthem" -- was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. It was first performed in public in the Johnsons' hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln's Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir composed of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.

Singing this song quickly became a way for African Americans to demonstrate their patriotism and hope for the future. In calling for earth and heaven to "ring with the harmonies of Liberty," they could subtly speak out against racism and Jim Crow laws -- and especially the huge number of lynchings that were accompanying the rise of the Ku Klux Klan at the turn of the century. In 1919, the NAACP adopted the song as "the Negro National Anthem." By the 1920s, copies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" could be found in Black churches across the country, often pasted into the hymnals.

During and after the Civil rights movement, the song experienced a rebirth, and by the 1970s it was often sung immediately after the Star Spangled Banner at public events and performances in cities and towns across the United States with a significant African-American population.

The verse most commonly heard is the first verse:

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.

See also: James Weldon Johnson

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