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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Black History Month

February is Black History Month and is recognized in both Canada and the United States.

My 10 years of living in the United States, most of the time living in the heart of black inner city neighbourhoods in Boston and New Haven, introduced me to the anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing", recognized as the Negro National Anthem. I have come to love this song. It moves me deeply ( it can move me to tears) and I am not one to get terribly emotional about music. It is a wonderful lyric (It was a poem first) with a very emotive tune. At the point where it changes key I am deeply caught up in the song, singing loud and proud.

Besides having a good lyric and a wonderful tune a song becomes an anthem when it is sung by large groups in circumstances which add layers of meaning and emotion to the participants. This is how this song, through the years has become a National Anthem for African Americans. I have participated in many large gatherings singing this song, quite often one of only a few white participants. Below is a very emotional presentation of it on video. The images give some indication of the layers of meaning attached to it over the years.

Negro National Anthem

The lyrics for this song were written by James Weldon Johnson and the music was composed by his brother, John Johnson . It was first presented a a poem on Lincoln's birthday to honour Booker T. Washington. For the history of this anthem visit

I was disappointed that at the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States there was not an occasion for a great public singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" How emotional and wonderful it would have been to have nearly two million voices singing it. I am sure it was sung in black churches in the Washington area for this occasion. I have read in a couple of blogs that there were spontanteous singing of it in the crowd that day.

It did make a small appearance in the prayer of Reverend Lowery as part of the benediction. He began his pray reciting the third verse of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" ,without comment, but there must have been some among the black participants that recognized the words.

Below is a video created for Barack Obama using "Lift Every Voice and Sing" I included it below because I think it is interesting to see the difference in tone between the first and second video in this blog entry. How times have changed.

I hope everyone will find some time to learns something more about the historical contribution African Americans and African Canadians have made to our societies.

For Canadians there is a wonderful portal web site to begin to learn of some of this history in Canada.


At 8:34 a.m., Blogger Gattina said...

I never heard this song. What a progress for the black people during the years. I always remember when I was in the States for the first time in 1971 and there were still separate toilets and banks for black people in certain States. It was hard to understand for me. Later I met some white Americans who complained about black people and wondered how there were so many, they didn't even know that they were imported to America as slaves !!

At 9:55 a.m., Blogger KGMom said...

This hymn is in the Presbyterian hymnal and we sing it occasionally in church.
I confess--I find the melody very difficult to sing. The range is beyond my voice, and the syncopation trips up singers all the time.
I prefer the unofficial African national anthem--Nkosi Sikelel Afrika--although I recognize many blacks in North America would not know it.

At 12:11 p.m., Blogger Janet said...

It's in the Methodist Hymnal too, and we used to sing it quite a lot. Of course, we were never told its origin!
Two very moving videos, but as you say, quite different in tone.

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