Professor Tommy Askew at Clark University in Atlanta says we should be moving toward racial inclusiveness by removing the title “The Negro National Anthem of Lift Every Voice and Sing” written by James Weldon Johnson, which was later set to music by Johnson’s brother. Before long it was being sung throughout the south in Black churches, public schools and all public gatherings. It spread like wildfire because all Black people below the Mason Dixie Line could identify with the words because of the legalized oppressive Jim Crow Laws of the southern states. I remember we would sing the Star Spangled Banner and then Lift Every Voice and Sing as a follow up, which is practiced today at many functions put on by Blacks. Even though we were being oppressed Lift Every Voice was our song and it gave us the courage to live on.
I am reminded of another song; However this one was written by an Englishman who sailed the seas carrying cargo of African slaves. He was not a Christian yet today his song is sung more than any other Christian song. It is a favorite in the Black church and was part of the civil rights movement, yet no one has suggested they alter the historic setting of which the song was written or that the writer was White. To the contrary most preachers will lead into the song of Amazing Grace with a brief history of John Newton and his conviction as a slave trader.
Yes it is a song about our struggle as a people living under an oppressive government and any people living under an unjust government that can identify with the words should or can adopt it as their rallying song. That is what the church did with Amazing Grace. To me that is one reason Blacks can identify with the Israelites/Jews stories in the Bible so well. And we do not ask them to change anything of theirs to be inclusive, if you like it you join them where they are.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, in the Book of Deuteronomy 6:6-12, God gave the Jews specific instruction to tell the story of how they got over exactly as it happened.
He instructed them to teach the young because He knew in time of prosperity they would forget the struggle and think of another reason how they got over. This is how I interpret what Professor Askew is doing and suggesting.
These moments in the life of a people living as slaves pulls at your heart strings and soul regardless of ones color or who wrote the words. When one understands the condition by which the writer pens the words it gives added appreciation for the song. For the past twenty five years here in the Inland Empire, people of various Christian denominations gather with Blacks at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. functions and NAACP fundraisers and sing the Negro National Anthem. It is a time of unity, pride and inclusiveness of a people coming together to better understand the plight of Black people as neighbors with our contributions to this nation.
“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 hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast 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.”
All who understand the history and do not want to repeat it should remember the Negro National Anthem by Lifting Your Voice And Sing.