The City Sentinel

Opinion: Every Voice Matters — but some words matter more than others

Darla Shelden Story by on July 3, 2020 . Click on author name to view all articles by this author. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

Patrick B. McGuigan


In the early 2000s at a school in northeast Oklahoma City, students and faculty together recited the Pledge of Allegiance, including the phrase “under God” (two words blended in after a campaign the Knights of Columbus led during the Eisenhower years).

On special occasions (not every day, but often), we would also sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

It is sometimes called “The Black National Anthem.” Some folks still remember an older title that some might deem improper these days. I learned it under that old title, yet the meaning of the words has never changed.

This grand old song is making headlines, again. I hope it evolves into an addition, not yielding a subtraction, from common memory.

I prayed today and will pray henceforward that the words are retained, unchanged, as time goes by.

When students discovered that Mr. McGuigan could sing it, too, some sang it next me, to work on harmony.

Check this out:

The song was first performed at a segregated public school on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln – February 12, 1900.

When we sang it at Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy in 2002-2004, I sometimes cried. Already then, I was becoming more like my father, prone to emotion and tears even in moments of joy.  That usually happened as soaring voices blended, in harmonies from those who knew the song (not all did).

Whether you have heard it never, rarely or a thousand times, close your eyes for a time.

Imagine or remember with your humble servant.

If you have the capability on your computer or electronic device, listen to this version from student at the Leon County Schools (Florida, in and around Tallahassee).

As a choral presentation, this is one of my favorites.

God Bless Us, everyone. Now, more than ever.

Here are those words, by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), later  set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), in 1899.

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.

John Rosamond Johnson

John Rosamond Johnson

A U.S. flag snaps in the breeze in front of the Oklahoma History Center before a Martin Luther King Day parade. Photo by Patrick B. McGuigan

A U.S. flag snaps in the breeze in front of the Oklahoma History Center before a Martin Luther King Day parade. Photo by Patrick B. McGuigan


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