Lift Every Voice and Sing” – often referred to as the “Black national anthem” in the United States – is a song written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in 1900 and set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson(1873–1954), for Lincoln’s birthday in 1905.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday by Johnson’s brother John. In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dubbed it “the Negro national anthem” for its power in voicing a cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people.
The song is a prayer of thanksgiving for faithfulness and freedom, with imagery evoking the biblical Exodus from slavery to the freedom of the “promised land.” It is featured in 39 different Christian hymnals, and is sung in churches across North America.
In 1939, Augusta Savage received a commission from the New York World’s Fair and created a 16-foot (5 m) plaster sculpture called Lift Every Voice and Sing. Savage did not have funds to have it cast in bronze or to move and store it. Like other Fair temporary installations, the sculpture was destroyed at the close of the fair.
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til 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 ’til 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,
‘Til 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.