Written as a poem in 1900, this song has endured to become known as the National Hymn for African Americans. After looking at several sources of information on the hymn with respect to itís origin, the history is not entirely clear. What is known for certain is that the lyrics were written by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and it was set to music by Jamesí brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954)
Some sources indicate that the song was originally performed as a poem by its lyricist to introduce Booker T. Washington to a segregated school congregation of negro children for an Abraham Lincoln Birthday celebration. Johnson was principal of the school. Other sources state that the song was sung by the childrenís choir with no mention of Booker T. Washington. The song recognizes the struggles of racism but rings out hope for the future of black Americans. It remains today a shining symbol of civil rights in America. James worked tirelessly through out his life for civil rights. He was an active member of the NAACP and served as the Executive Secretary in 1920 for that organization.
The lyrics of this song open heartfelt emotions mixed with despair, hope, enlightenment, faith, pride, and love.
Lift every voice and sing,
'Til 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 'til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning 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.