Like most Americans, I know by heart the American National Anthem. “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light,” and so on. It is a song I’ve sung many a time. Yet, somehow, in all those years of singing it in school, at baseball games, and on special occasions, I never knew there was such a thing as the National Black Anthem.
For, unless you’re African American, the National Black Anthem isn’t something you hear everyday. The first time I heard it I was attending an event where, after playing the U.S. National Anthem, they segued into the Black Anthem.
I listened to the words and watched the accompanying video, comprised of photographs and footage of African Americans throughout history. It was an emotional piece. Deeply so. Like poetry steeped in history and sorrow, yet full of hope and faith, ending on a high note, with a smiling President Barack Obama walking across a stage with his family. The lyrics reminding us that anything is possible and that the plight of the African American in U.S. history may be full of discrimination, but it is also a story of strength and perseverence.
Six years later and I can tell you the words of the National Black Anthem envelope me everytime I hear it. I think of those who have struggled. I think of the challenges still needing to be addressed. And by the second or third verse, I am reminded how it is in the nature of people to look upward, with hearts full and measured. We sing, we rise and greet each day, knowing there will be another and another and that, no matter what, we must never give up and succumb to whatever ails us in the moment. An important lesson, indeed.
Now, I am not African American, but I love this anthem all the same. Every year I attend the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations in my community and with each one, I look forward to that moment when I hear the first notes of the anthem. I remember each beat, each pause in the melody. My voice intertwines with those of my fellow companions and we sing with love and pride. It is how I start the New Year, celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s where I’ll be next month and I can’t wait to join in, lifting every voice and singing!
I’ve included the lyrics below. I encourage you, too, to watch the video, too, so you can hear the anthem in all its glory. Created by James Weldon Johnson, the anthem is genuine in its grace.
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.