Part of my hybrid upbringing was learning the “Black National Anthem”. As a child, I hated this separatist idea – that there were two Americas – that I was being indoctrinated with, but I dutifully learned the first stanza of the song as required and could sing it on demand.
The anthem is a song written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1899 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson in 1900. It is a staple in every HBCU choir. With the events in Missouri, Florida, Ohio, California and New York, the verses are still as relevant today as they were when they were written 115 years ago. The fact is, there are indeed two Americas, and depending on what shade of brown you happen to find yourself on or what zip code you find your residence in, your America will look very different from someone else’s.
The song talks about hope that dies before its even born. For many people born to poverty and disadvantage – who by virtue of the circumstances of their birth find themselves trapped in the classroom to prison pipeline – this is a bitter reality. Nevertheless, this is their America. Hope dying before it is born plays out in different scenarios all over this country.
The song also talks about faith and how it will carry you through the dark times.
Some of you have never heard of the emotional roller coaster that is African American National Anthem. That’s okay! I am here for you.
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 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.