James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) was a leading figure in the development of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a civil rights activist, attorney, U.S. Diplomat, anthropologist, and accomplished writer. After retiring from the NAACP in 1930, Johnson devoted the rest of his life to writing and became the first African American professor at New York University.
In 1900 James wrote the poem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” In 1905 his brother John arranged it to music, resulting in what is commonly referred to as “The Black National Anthem.” You can hear the strength and resilient faith of generations of African American women and men singing this song as they labor for equity and freedom:
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.
Included in the anthem is a beautiful prayer. I share it with you today.
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!