One hundred and forty-five years ago today, on June 19th in 1865, two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and with the defeat of Confederate forces by the Union Army, the last remaining slaves in Galveston, Texas were freed, ending chattel slavery in the United States. Today, June 19th or Juneteenth, is observed in most parts of the country with parades, family gatherings and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.
In addition, the great poem, Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson is often either read or sung. Johnson’s poem was set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson and is included in The Episcopal Church’s The Hymnal 1982. It is sometimes referred to as “The Black National Anthem.”
The poetry speaks for itself and so I offer it below.
If you want to listen to it sung, there are a number of versions on YouTube. My favorite is this one featuring the great bass opera singer Soloman Howard.
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.