Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Written by: James Weldon Johnson

Music by: J. Rosamond Johnson

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by James Weldon Johnson. James Weldon Johnson was a civil rights activist, writer, politician, educator, and a lawyer. Live Every Voice And Sing was originally written as a poem. The poem was then set to music by Mr. Weldon’s brother J. Rosamond Johnson. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was written at time when Jim Crow was active. African-Americans not only had very limited rights, they were often also victims of violence—especially in the south. The song acknowledges all the obstacles that African-Americans still had to face in their struggle for freedom, while also taking stock of the very long way they'd come in that struggle.

The song was performed for the first time by 500 school children in celebration of President Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 in Jacksonville, FL. The children were students of a segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was the principal. The song was soon adopted by the NAACP as its official song.

James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, FL on June 17, 1871. He was educated at Atlanta University, he was the first African American to pass the bar in Florida during his tenure as principal of Stanton Elementary School, his alma mater. Born in the south but a figure of national and international significance, Johnson’s richly lived life marked by remarkable accomplishments, service and leadership merits its own living memorial. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed James Weldon Johnson to diplomatic positions in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Upon his return in 1914, Johnson became involved with the NAACP, and by 1920, was serving as chief executive of the organization. Also during this period, he became known as one of the leading figures in the creation and development of the African-American artistic community known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies is an intellectual project that seeks to capture and reflect the many artistic, scholastic, and humanitarian achievements of Johnson by supporting research that focuses upon the history, evolution and legacy of the modern civil rights movement. Through the establishment of the Johnson Institute, Emory University becomes one of the premiere sites in the nation that supports the research of a new generation of scholars committed to the examination of a social justice movement of which Johnson is a pioneering figure, that is part of our national heritage, and our enduring and dynamic gift to humankind.

Read more about James Weldon Johnson from the following resources:


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