Posts

The American Journey of the Negro National Anthem

The American Journey of the Negro National Anthem

At the age of 28, James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) began to pen a poem which would become one of the most celebrated hymns of all time. Johnson was not only a writer, but also a lawyer, teacher, United States diplomat, and the author of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Negro National Anthem. He became the first African-American to pass the bar in the state of Florida, and also served as executive secretary of the NAACP from 1920-1930.

VOICE OF A PEOPLE, SONG OF A NATION

After receiving his bachelor’s and law degrees, Johnson balanced dual careers as educator and lawyer, while also writing poetry. In 1900, at the age of 29, he was asked to speak at an observance at the Florida school where he was principal, but chose to write a piece instead. That piece became what we now know as Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Said James Weldon Johnson –

“A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children.

“Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.

“The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.”[1]

 

In 1939, renowned artist Augusta Savage received a commission from the World's Fair for a work of art. She created a 16-foot plaster sculpture titled “The Harp”, which was inspired by “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”. The sounding board of the harp is the arm and hand of God.

In 1939, renowned artist Augusta Savage received a commission from the World’s Fair for a work of art. She created a 16-foot plaster sculpture titled “The Harp”, which was inspired by “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. The sounding board of the harp is the arm and hand of God.

In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded and by 1920, Johnson was appointed as its Executive Secretary. As he worked with the organization to combat racism, lynching, and segregation, the popularity of his anthem began to spread throughout the South. Copies of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” could be found in Black churches across the country, and the NAACP had adopted it as its theme song. It was also during this time that “Negro History Week” (now “Black History Month”) was first celebrated, conceived by noted historian Carter G. Woodson.

According to Harry Henderson and Romare Bearden in A History of African-American Artists (From 1792 to the Present)-

“[Lift Every Voice and Sing] resonates strongly as a Christian hymn because it is a song about exodus. It is a story of a journey sanctified by faith, and protected and prospered by God”[2].

Though the Johnson brothers wrote over 200 songs together (mostly for the stage), this anthem would be their most renowed. Recent historic references to Lift Every Voice include the recitation of its 3rd stanza by Civil Rights leader Reverend Joseph Lowery (formerly president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), for his benediction at the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama in 2009, and a beautiful performance by noted soprano Denyce Graves at the opening ceremonies of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC in 2016.

Lift Every Voice and Sing continues to serve as inspiration of a people, and an anthem of resilience, hope and faith – not only for African Americans, but also for all Americans who are on the journey to freedom, liberty and justice. 

 

LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING

Lift every voice and sing,

Till 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 till victory is won.

CLICK HERE FOR A PDF OF THE COMPLETE LYRICS. Watch violinist Karen Briggs perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at West Angeles Church of God In Christ below:

Read more about The American Journey of Black History Month HERE.

See Dr. Judith McAllister and the West Angeles Mass Choir’s presentation of “We Shall Overcome” HERE.


[1] – Poetry Foundation, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46549

[2] – Bearden, Romare and Henderson, Harry:  A History of African-American Artists (From 1792 to the Present), Pantheon Books (Random House), 1993, ISBN 0-394-57016-2. Pp. 168-180.

Image of Augusta Savage, courtesy, New York Public Library.

PAINTING - Aaron Douglas: "From Slavery to Reconstruction, Aspects of Negro Life"; courtesy, The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division.  American Journey of Black History Month.

The American Journey of Black History Month

The American journey of Black  History Month begins around 1915, 50 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. In September of that year, historian Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a National Negro History week in 1926.

The American Journey of Black History Month - Carter G. Woodson, Father of Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson, Father of Black History Month.

 

CREATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH

The son of former slaves, historian Carter G. Woodson was the second African American to receive a PhD from Harvard University. Like W. E. B. Du Bois (who was, incidentally, the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard), he believed that truth could not be denied, and that reason would prevail over prejudice [2]. Through his organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), he conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass[1]. The NAACP was also founded in February in 1909.

Woodson lobbied schools, churches, and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African-American history. The response was overwhelming. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. Mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

By the 1970s, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.  During America’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford recognized Black History Month as a national celebration, calling upon the public to “seize theThe American Journey of Black History Month opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”[2]

HONORING BLACK HISTORY MONTH TODAY

Since its official, national recognition in 1976, Black History Month has been designated by every American president as a time to reflect upon the history and accomplishments of African Americans, and to honor the individuals and groups which have worked tirelessly toward racial justice.  Other countries around the world also devote time to celebrating Black History.

American Presidents have also adopted the practice of endorsing specific themes for the month’s observations. The 2013 theme, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington,” marks the 150th and 50th anniversaries of two pivotal events in African-American history.

For Black History Month in 2014, President Barack Obama in his Presidential Proclamation  said the following:

“As we pay tribute to the heroes, sung and unsung, of African-American history, we recall the inner strength that sustained millions in bondage. We remember the courage that led activists to defy lynch mobs and register their neighbors to vote. And we carry forward the unyielding hope that guided a movement as it bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.  Even while we seek to dull the scars of slavery and legalized discrimination, we hold fast to the values gained through centuries of trial and suffering.”[3]

As the Black American journey continues to uplift the hopes and dreams of those of other cultures worldwide, the stories and testimonies found in African American history serve as a constant light and reflection of the true soul and promise of America. Carter G. Woodson, in promoting the study of black history, has inspired a nation to honor the resilience and spirit of a people.

 

Video, courtesy, Biography.com.  Many thanks!


[1] – “About Carter G. Woodson”, Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). https://asalh100.org/our-history/carter-g-woodson/, accessed 2-7-2017.

[2] – “About African American History Month,” excerpted from an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/about.html; accessed 2/4/2016. 

[3] – “African American History Month”, The National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. http://www.national-consortium.org/Special-Recognition/African-American-History-Month.aspx

FEATURED PAINTING – Aaron Douglas: “From Slavery to Reconstruction, Aspects of Negro Life”, 1934; courtesy, The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • In September 2016, the Smithsonian Institution opened the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. Thirteen years since Congress and President George W. Bush authorized its construction, the 400,000-square-foot building stands on a five-acre site on the National Mall, close to the Washington Monument.
  • AfricanAmericanHistoryMonth.gov is a collaboration between The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • The Library of Congress has a branch dedicated to law and legislative documents. The Law Library of Congress has compiled guides to commemorative observations, including a comprehensive inventory of the Public Laws, Presidential Proclamations and congressional resolutions related to African American History Month.

 

 

BlkHist1

Bishop Blake: God’s Place In Black History

Reposted from ChristianityToday.com, February 19, 2016.

By Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake

When you are in the throes of doing what is right for righteousness’ sake, little time is taken to appreciate or envision the historical imprint your actions may have on the country. You don’t stop to ponder how your actions will alter the course of your life.

In college, I found myself watching and reading about events that were being characterized as civil resistance and civil disobedience. I often went to God in prayer to ask how I could be an instrument of change in what was happening in Alabama at the time. I didn’t realize then that the civil rights movement would become so richly commemorated and celebrated during Black History Month.

It is crucial to continue to remember not only those days, but all the ideas and events that have shaped the history of African Americans and our nation. And none is more important than this: the place of God in all of it.

In 1976, as part of the United States bicentennial, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling upon America to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Long before President Ford’s official recognition of Black History Month in 1976, African American, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and prominent, African American minister Jesse E. Moorland founded an organization, known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The ASALH was dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans. The organization sponsored the first national Negro History Week in 1926, selecting the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, February 12 and February 14, respectively.

Woodson said, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated…”

By the late 1960s, thanks in no small part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness and pride in black heritage, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month.

The nonviolent protests and movements of today are inspired by the strategies of the civil rights movement. Despite the separation of decades, I see great similarities in the cries for justice and against police brutality. What is obviously different today is this: the civil rights movement was visibly God-centric in its motivational speeches; there were many calls for prayer and appeals to the biblical justification of the movement.

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.”

As I look at the genesis of the African American and note our heroic journey traveled as a people—through enslavement, oppression, rejection and segregation—the greatest constant, on the path to the freedoms enjoyed today, was the presence of God-loving, God-fearing, and God-worshiping men and women.

Black history reveals that slaves suffered undeserved dehumanizing treatment as they toiled at Southern plantations in the blazing sun. And yet, they worshiped God. They met secretly for Bible classes. The timeless Bible stories of bondage, slavery, and the suffering of Christ evoked a response of faith and hope which were expressed in lyrics like:

My father, how long,
My father, how long,

My father how long,
We’ll walk de miry road Poor sinner suffer here
Where pleasure never dies. And it won’t be long,
We’ll walk de golden streets And it won’t be long,
Of de New Jerusalem. And it won’t be long,
Poor sinner suffer here.
My brudders do sing De praises of de Lord.
We’ll soon be free,
De Lord will call us home.
We’ll fight for Liberty
When de Lord will call us home.

Former slave Harriet Tubman, the 19th-century “Moses,” never lost a person along the Underground Railroad and attributed her success to her staunch faith in God. Just as she began to engineer one of her freedom quests, she would pray, “I’m going to hold steady on You, an’ You’ve got to see me through.”

On the broad shoulders of slaves, African Americans of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s stood for justice and marched for equality. Every time “We Shall Overcome” was sung, it became a declaration of faith in God’s ability to empower his people. As historian Albert Raboteau stated, “The civil rights movement became a religious crusade.”

Churches played a pivotal role in the movement. Churchgoers relied on God’s guidance as they fought racism, hatred, discrimination, and injustice. Sunday morning pulpits became soapboxes to commingle God’s Word with inspiration and information regarding civil rights initiatives. Similarly, marches took on the characteristics of church services with prayers, sermonettes, and songs.

As student body president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia, during some of the most intense days of the struggle for civil rights, I joined my fellow students in an insatiable urge to be part of something that we knew was bigger than ourselves. We knew the words of King—“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”—were absolute. We chartered buses and traveled from our campus in Atlanta to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, to lend our voices, our minds and our bodies, if necessary, to fight for the civil rights of all African Americans. We were added to the number of thousands upon thousands who played just a small part in bringing about a big change.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same Jesus who heard the songs of the slaves and the chants of the civil rights marchers will hear the prayers of those who now cry out for justice throughout our country. It is imperative that religious leaders continue to advise all to pray for peace and protest with purpose.

Black lives have always mattered to God. However, as black history shows, it’s not by power nor by might but by the spirit of God—the wisdom, authority, power, and presence of the Most High God—that freedom, equality, and justice will come.

Every day is history in the making. As African Americans continue to march and rally in response to the senseless deaths of young black men at the hands of the police, the poor communities victimized by government choices, and whenever overt racism rears its ugly head, in all this, God must continue to be sought for counsel, direction, and protection. With God’s help, we shall overcome.

Bishop Charles E. Blake, is the Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the world’s fifth largest denomination, and pastor of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, in Los Angeles California, with a membership in excess of 25,000 parishioners.

black_history

Bishop Blake: A Sermon For Black History Month

“We need to reach back to our homeland; reach back to Africa.” – Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake

For Black History Month, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake took the congregation of West Angeles Church of God In Christ back to school with a Black History lesson that transcended the ages. He began his sermon in Africa, thousands of years before the birth of Christ, with the stories of Moses, the Queen of Sheba, the slave trade, and the roots of Pentecostalism, to reveal the connection between people of African descent and the roots of Christianity.

Bishop Blake was also inspired by the story of Joseph in Genesis, who married an Egyptian woman, and cited parallels between Joseph’s journey and the historic journey of African Americans.

See this entire Black History celebration on West Angeles’ Gospel On Demand here.

Highlights from the sermon follow:

“Two thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Moses traveled to Midian, in the southern part of the fertile crescent. There, Moses married a dark-skinned Midianite woman. Moses married an Ethiopian, and Ethiopia people in her family became counselors and advisers to Moses.”

“Almost 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the queen of Sheba –also known as Kush or Ethiopia – visited King Solomon. She came from Africa with many camels, spices, gold, and precious stones. Her nation and her culture had obviously existed long before that time.”

“The Ethiopian Piankhi established the 24th Egyptian Dynasty. And at least four Egyptian Kings ruled over Egypt from 730 BC until 66 BC…great nations, great civilizations, great cultures existed in Africa centuries before Jesus Christ was born.”

“One of the greatest generals of all time was a man by the name of Hannibal from the city of Carthage in Northern Africa. Hannibal frequently defied and defeated Rome between 219 and 203 BC.”

“In 1498 AD, Portuguese explorers wrote that they found along the east African coast tall stone towns of comfort and of wealth. They found people who were highly civilized and skilled in the use of the compass, and in reading charts.”

“Timbuktu was a magnificent city where merchants made greater profit from the sale of books than from the sale of any other commodity.”

“In the areas of science, art, medicine, government, law, and culture, many of the nations of Africa were competitive with, and in many cases more advanced than, the other nations of the world in Europe and Asia during that period. All of this was devastated by the slave trade; by slavery, and by Colonialism.”

“William Banks gives us the following report in his book, ‘The Black Church In The US’: nearly 20 million Negroes were made captive over the span of some 300 years, from 1517 until 1840. They were crammed …into ships like sardines in a can, and brought across the Atlantic from the Gulf of Guinea to the New World. The trip that they made was called ‘The Middle Passage’. It’s estimated that perhaps 12 million Blacks landed in South America and Latin America, and about 2 million of them were brought into the US.”

“What happened to the millions that were taken away from Africa? Some died resisting capture. Some died in captivity. While waiting in Africa to be shipped out, some committed suicide, not willing to be captured. Others, beaten and too weak to continue the trek, were abandoned to die.”

“Most of the loss of life came during the Middle Passage, that journey across the ocean from Africa to the New World. Perhaps not more than half of the slaves which were shipped out from Africa ever became effective workers in the New World.”

“What was the impact of the loss of 20 million of its inhabitants on the culture and the nations of Africa? How many died trying to defend their families in the violence associated with the slave trade?”

“After the slave trade came the horrible period of Colonialism, in which horrible invaders did to Africa’s resources what those before them did to Africa’s people. What was the value of the people and of the resources that were taken from the continent of Africa?”

“After all we went through, we still produced a Benjamin Banneker, maker of the first American clock; Sojourner Truth; George Washington Carver; Charles Drew… Benjamin O Davis; Ralph Bunche; Booker T. Washington; Marion Anderson; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Malcolm X; Colin Powell; Barack Obama!”

“After all we went through, God blessed us to be productive; to rise above our oppression and attain excellence.” – Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake

“During the dark day of the Crucifixion, the Jews were condemning [Jesus] and calling for His death. Europe, represented by the Roman Centurions, drove nails into the hands of feet of Jesus. But Africa, represented by Simon of Cyrene, a Black man from Northwest Africa, stepped in when everybody else was stepping back…Simon of Cyrene shared history’s most significant moment with the Christ: he bore the Cross of Christ up Calvary’s Hill.”

“Jesus will not allow you to bear your cross by yourself. If anybody out there needs help with your cross, give praise to the Lord, and He will help you to bear your cross!”

“God chose black hands and wooly hair to perform an act that all the truly wise and all the truly great…Godly men of the earth would have been overjoyed to perform: bearing the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

“The Ethiopian secretary of the treasury was to pass in his chariot…this Ethiopian nobleman heard and believed the gospel, and after being baptized, this nobleman went back to Ethiopia to form the Abyssinian Church that exists until this day. He was the first Gentile of record to be saved: a Black man.”

“Historian Dean (Henry Hart) Milman has said, “It was Africa, not Rome, which gave birth to Latin Christianity. Africa gave three of the greatest scholars of the church to the church. Augustine, Tertullian, Cyprian, were all born in Northern Africa.”

“Anyone who says that Christianity is a white man’s religion and not a black man’s religion really doesn’t know anything about Christianity.”

“Christianity is not a white man’s religion it’s not a black man’s religion: it’s just man’s religion! Halleluiah!”

“Black men have the privilege of being among the first leaders and participants in the Pentecostal and Charismatic revival that swept across the church in the early 1900’s.”

“(Historian and author Dr. H. Vinson Synan says that) Charles F. Parham, a white man, and William J. Seymour, a Black man, share roughly equal positions as founders of modern Pentecostalism.”

“A key man in that contagious spread (of Pentecostalism) was a man by the name of Charles Harrison Mason, a Black man and the father of founder of the Church Of God in Christ. In 1907, Elder Mason went to Los Angeles and participated in the Azuza Revival and received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.”

“Scores of white ministers obtained ministerial credentials from Elder Mason from the Church of God In Christ. One group in Alabama and Texas received permission to use the name of the church in 1912, and this continued until 1914, when they organized and called their predominantly white organization the Assemblies of God.”

“When Bishop Mason passed in 1961, he left behind him one of the largest Pentecostal bodies in the world.”

“Christianity belongs to all of us! Aren’t you glad that you know Jesus Christ?” – Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake

“There are many parallels between [African Americans] and the experience of Joseph. In jail, Joseph held on to the dream. Black people held on to the dream in slavery. We believed that God was going to deliver us, and praise God: God did deliver us. We held onto the dream!”

“Somebody in here is going through something evil, but I want you to know God meant it for good! God is going to turn it around!”

“We need to reach back to our homeland; reach back to Africa.”

“If you pursue the purpose of God, God is going to work everything out for your good.”

“God worked it out for it us, and God is gonna work it out for you: but you’ve got to hold on to the dream!”

“Does anybody have a dream in here? Anybody have a vision? Do you have something you’re reaching for? Listen: God is going to bring it to pass!”

“If you hold on to God, if you trust God: ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of god and His righteousness, and all of these things shall be added unto you.”

“Child of God, I just came by to tell you that God has great miracles in store for you!”

“If Joseph were here, and if he could testify, he would say to you, ‘Don’t ever give up on your dream: don’t ever give up on your vision.”

“God has Blessed us, but I don’t believe God is through with us yet”.

“The story of Joseph can be your story. The story of your people can be your story…Praise God for your future!”

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES: Genesis 37-50, Num10:29, Numbers 12:1-9, Isaiah 40:31, Romans 8:28; Romans 8:31-39, Matthew 6:33.

Screen-shot-2013-04-09-at-2.13.41-PM-940x529

A Message For Black History Month- Bishop Charles E. Blake

A Message For Black History Month-Bishop Charles E. Blake from West Angeles COGIC on Vimeo.

Add to Cart