The "black national anthem" still resonates

Certain pieces of furniture from your childhood stand out.

For me, it's a standup Kimball piano that my sister and mother played. With years of lessons, my sister could play everything from Crocodile Rock to You Make Me Feel Brand New.

On the other hand, my mother had one particular song she could play flawlessly: Lift Every Voice And Sing.

On Monday, during the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs' 30th Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Breakfast, I thought about how I came to appreciate the black national anthem.

After the invocation, many stood and sung the spiritual proudly and loudly. A few, however, mumbled and stumbled, clearly needing the help of the lyrics in the program.

I couldn't help but wonder if the powerful words of James Weldon Johnson would resonate 20 years from now. Will today's children know the song and its significance?

Have I even bothered to teach it to my three children?

Lift ev'ry voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of liberty.

I learned to love the inspiring message of this glorious hymn through my mother's many performances.

Over the years, I have called upon the words during personal trials and tribulations, and I've referenced the song in more than one column.

Let our rejoicing rise, high as the list'ning skies

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Johnson, a Jacksonville native, penned the words in 1900 as a poem to commemorate Abraham Lincoln's birthday. His brother Rosamond composed the music.

The NAACP eventually adopted the song as the "Negro national anthem" after it grew in popularity.

It's easy to understand why the lyrics resonated back then. While recognizing the challenges of the day, Johnson offered a vision of hope.

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

The anthem's true beauty, however, lies in how relevant the lyrics remain today. As a community, blacks still rely on faith taught by the past and hope brought by the present.

Some will say we live in a postracial America that no longer needs a "black national anthem." But the song's power can still help to correct the wrongs in our society.

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun

Let us march on till victory is won.

Besides, the inspiration the song generates can be shared by every citizen.

"At the breakfast, there was a very diverse crowd and everyone can sing it because it's a history that we all share," said Cory Person, local lawyer and co-chairman of the breakfast. "It speaks to the hope that we have and that's a hope shared by people of all races and all cultures."

After all, Johnson didn't write, "Lift Every Black Voice." He wrote "Lift Every Voice."

That's all I'm saying.

The "black national anthem" still resonates 01/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 11:29pm]

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