By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an inspiring lawyer, educator, author and activist that truly captured the spirit of the times. He was not only the first African-American professor at New York University, but also the writer of what is unofficially known as the Black National Anthem. He was also worked tirelessly with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1917 – 1930.
Lift Every Voice And Sing
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
I remember in school assemblies, we always sang this song right after the National Anthem. I was disappointed when I got older to find out all that time we were only singing the first verse! There were two more verses that I had never heard about it. When I found that out, I promptly set out to learn the next two verses. When I would tell people about the other two verses and “sing” it for them, they were always surprised. It really is a beautiful song, and I’m proud to know it.
Another notable work of Johnson’s is The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. This work of fiction tells the story of a bi-racial man who is caught between the choice of following his heritage and passion for ragtime music, and living a much more private life passing for a White Man.
I plan on picking up this work later this month. I can’t wait to read it!
(Photograph taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1932)