Lift Every Voice and Sing was initially a piece of poetry written by James Weldon Johnson in 1899. The first public performance of the piece took place in Jacksonville, Florida at the Edwin M. Stanton School where Johnson was the Principal at the time. Five Hundred school children were gathered to recite the poem to commemorate the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln on February 12th 1900. It was five years later that Johnson’s brother, John Johnson, put music to the words. It was one of many songs they produced to counter stereotypes of African Americans brought about from early 1900s musical theater. By 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had adopted Lift Every Voice and Sing as their official song and proclaimed it “The Negro National Anthem.”
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 has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has 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.