Black National Anthem

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Lift Every Voice and Sing was written to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday because of his influence in uplifting the lives of African Americans. In particular, the poem was used to introduce Booker Washington at a segregated African-American School because he was the most recognized among blacks in the country. The song version circulated in the back covers of hymnals in churches and by 1919 it was regarded as the “Negroe Anthem”. It was already popular in the North and South. The poem was later dubbed as the black national anthem because it depicted a message of hardship and perseverance that African Americans needed to endure during the 19th and 20th

century. Lift Every song and Sing has already been performed in a number of genre including rap, R & B, Jazz and Classicals. The paper explores the impact of the poem and why it was referred to as the Black National Anthem.

For most Blacks, singing the song was their way of expressing patriotism and hopes and expectations of the future, especially due to the numerous racism encounters in their life. Deep symbolism about the black way of life is found in the lyrics of the song (Johnson 56). The first stanza focuses on singing and music, the speaker narrates that we should lift our voices and sing together line a happy in honor of freedom and liberty. Essentially, the song is full of hope and faith. Stanza 2 goes further by digging into the sad history of African Americans. For instance, the writer defers to the stony road that black people have walked and the “rod” that was used to chasten them (Johnson 78). The ‘stony’ and the “rod” are metaphors for the difficulty and violence that African Americans had experienced in the past, and during the time. The final stanza is a tribute to God and how he has been instrumental in maintaining their hope and faith for a better life. Johnson acknowledges that they would not have reached that far without the guidance of a supreme being. The song ends with the loyalty to God and to America, their native land.

            The song’s ability to induce pain and hope as well as a sense of progress made it a standard hymnody of many black churches. Singing to God was a symbol of pride and hope. The song created an intense bond in the past, present and future (Johnson 58). Slavery might have been over but Jim Crow was in full force in the Southern region of the United States. For instance, Blacks were always victims of violence and they had limited rights. As such, the poem acknowledges the obstacles that Black people had to face in the struggles for freedom. The composition spoke to black people in a deep and personal way. It gave hope for them to keep struggling for their liberation. African Americans are a big part of America’s history due to their many contributions in building the country during the slavery period (Kalte and Katherine 18). After the slavery era, Blacks were also big contributors to the culture and society in the United States. Despite all that, White people treated them like second-class citizens. Therefore, connotations of such a song or poem motivated them to fight and protest in order for them to have equal rights as other Americans (Johnson 10). White land owners in the South portrayed blacks as contented workers who were willing to let whites to make decisions on how land should be distributed. Black farmers were not happy with this rule and thus they formed their own underground cotton market. Others burnt down barns and liberated convict laborers. This was just but the beginning of black liberation. African Americans aspired to control their labour and create social space in order to achieve equitable distribution of economic resources. Also, Black women used the new anthem as a fight against forced labor ordinances. For instance, in Miami (1926) Black women fought against US Marine who hauled them to the streets forcing them to clean streets in Miami, with no wages.

            Additionally, the song remains as a way of telling the stories of African Americans in the country. Moreover, it acts as a form of education because it sets forth principles and values that the society considers as virtuous. Johnson’s song teaches and tells stories of black people in the country in epic terms (Johnson 89). Essentially, the poem teaches a history of difficulty, complications and moments of glory. Before the poem was written, Black people were without a history to tell. Later in the 20th

century, the Black National Anthem travelled from the South to North, forming a basis of many civil rights movements. Black power was initiated and countless family reunions at Carnegie Hall were enhanced. Moreover, the hymn formed the basis in which African Americans organized, mourned and celebrated rights activists, political heroes and American culture at large (Johnson 40).

            Timothy Askew did a historical analysis of the political conservatism of Weldon Johnson and his assertions on American patriotism. He gives a captivating account of the social and cultural history that is revealed in the song (CWA 23). Essentially, Askew argues that the story is one of black institutional life and the hostile and captive conditions of black people in the 19th

and 20th century.

            According to Stepto, the impact of the anthem has been phenomenal throughout the years (3). The main impact is that the American way of life has moved away from institutionalization and association as it used to be. The hymn was immediately embraced as an anthem by the NAACP and it has been performed numerously by artists during times of crisis and celebrations. Its lyrics are crucial in explaining how the American way of life has changed, especially for black people. In the second stanza, the poem reads “felt in the days when hope unborn and died. The third line writes, “Yet with a steady beat, we have not our weary feet.” Not only has the poem been used in the struggle for freedom but also in uplifting black leaders throughout history. For instance, it was used during President Obama’s campaign trails.

            Johnson’s hymn says everything about history and heritage of African Americans as well as the triumphs and challenges that Black folks face. “Lift Every Voice and sing” represented a newly wakened black race that fought for identity.  Patriotism was also enhanced because the poem is all about investing some sense of value in the people and the nation.

                        Singing the hymn to Washington was strategically wise because it created a platform for airing black people issues. Although Washington’s attractiveness to White people depended on his dislike for blacks, he made sure that he focused on economic development. Washington ensured that vocational education was available to blacks (Berline 67). It acts as a juxtaposition of capitalism and calls upon everyone to never give up in the fights for justice. Johnson’s hymn acts as an anti-racist message in direct opposition of a system that was built in from the sweat of slaves. Capitalism was a system of oppressing and exploiting Africans.

            Johnson’s hymn describes a shift in black political and cultural life, which is considered a huge step towards unfettered imagination and greater boldness (Berline 46). During world war years, African Americans and their institutions solidified and they began mobilizing widely. They focused on works of artists and activists by using the song as a point of reference. Additionally, formalism was deeply rooted in black culture especially with regards to schools, churches and other civic organizations. s

            More importantly, Lift Every song and Sing was used as a deliberate cultivation and nurturing of black children in civic and education spaces. Therefore, the song shaped the lives of children in the segregated South. In mid-20th century, black children were faced down with white supremacy (Bond and Sondra 35). Moreover, institutions in America did not prioritize the development of black children and youth. However, with the invention of the black national anthem, these institutions began to notice the need to treat all children equally. There were children page in newspapers and youth had branches within black political set ups. For instance, Martin Luther King’s first public speech in 1944 was hosted in a commonplace where segregated youth would meet and express their opinions about the political situation in America. Such occasions were largely attributed to the unity initiated by Johnson’s song. These occasions were used to express the much-celebrated oratorical tradition in the southern states (Bond and Sondra 35). Also, they were used as platforms to nurture youth and introduce a dimension of black formalism.

            One tangible outcome of embracing the song is the rise of the 1960s freedom movement regarding black leadership in electoral politics. Carl Stokes for instance became the Mayor of Cleveland in 1967 (Kalte and Katherine 12). In the same year, Richard Hatcher was confirmed as an elected mayor of Gary, Indiana. Between the year 1967 and 1995, over 400 black mayors had been elected in American cities. This was a remarkable transformation that began after Jim Crow Laws had been declared unconstitutional. During most of the events hosted by these movements, Lift Every Voice and Sing was the theme song. The song was a subject for bus boycotts as seen in the case of Rosa Parks, an activist and member of the black Montgomery movement (Stein and Nathan 18). Parks refused to yield her seat to a white person. Later, she was arrested and fined. To add on, the song inspired creation of organization that fought against segregation in public institutions such as schools and public buses (African American Review 3). To conclude on the political impact of the song, President Obama stood as a beacon of hope for new beginnings. The politics of race are slowly being extinguished especially after America chose to vote in a Black President.


            In summary, Lift Every Voice and Sing was composed in the midst of varying political and social challenges faced by black people. It emerges as a tool for civic, political, economic and educational turnaround of African Americans. The song was originally composed as a poem to entertain Booker T. Washington but it later became a building block for the robust history and rich culture of African Americans. The song has since been dubbed the Black National Anthem because of the immense impact that it had on all these aspects of their lives.

Works Cited

African American Review. Terre Haute, Ind: Dept. of English, Indiana State University, 1992. Print.

Berline, Edward. Johnson, James Weldon. Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2017.

Bond, Wilson and Sondra K. Lift Every Voice and Sing. A celebration of the Negro National Aanthem. 1st Ed. New York¨Random House, 2000.

CWA. Convention Proceedings. Washington, D.C.?: The Association, 1994. Print.

Johnson, Weldon. Lift Every Voice and Sing. Poetry Foundation,  1938.

Kalte, Pamela M, and Katherine H. Nemeh. American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today's Leaders in Physical, Biological and Related Sciences. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2003. Print.

Stein, R C, and Nathan Greene. The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1986. Print.

Stepto, Gabriel. Chronologies of American History and Experience. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. Print.

November 24, 2023

History Life Sociology

Subject area:

African American History

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