It was near to The Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Day (never “M.L.K. DAY please!) back in say 1988 that I took myself to Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield, MA for an inter-faith service to honour Dr. King. It was, after all, “the right thing to do”.
The attendance was poor; the content of service was a bit pretentious; and due to poor communication on the part of the sponsors of the service, the Black Church gospel choir which was to have led our singing was not present.
We were enjoined to sing a song. I did not know it. The pianist was unfamiliar with it. The singing was dismal.
I fulminated and muttered: “who in the world chose this awful song?”
Even now, some 23 years later, I blush at the memory of my arrogance.
For the song was the great “Lift every voice and sing”. It is a powerful text rooted deeply in the biblical call to justice. It is known as the “Negro National Anthem”.
I am ashamed and embarrassed that I once “dissed” this song. We sang it at Church yesterday with great verve and spiritual power. But even as I belted it out I was reminded of my own ignorance back then in say 1988.
Here is the text:
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.
Here is a bit about the author, James Weldon Johnson (whose brother wrote the tune).
And you can enjoy it and sing along here.