Lift Every Voice and Sing


Lift Every Voice and Sing was written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then converted into a song by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. It was performed for the first time in Jacksonville, Florida by 500 school children in celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900. The song was then adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1919 as its official “Black National Anthem”. 

Today, the anthem is recited at gatherings to celebrate excellence, community, and Black pride. During her Coachella performance in 2018, Beyonce paid homage to the song by singing a few lines in front of her audience. As the first Black woman to headline the Coachella music festival in California, this was both a historic and political moment for the Black community. 

The choreography consists of performers lined up either in stagnant positions or in synchronized motions. As the song proceeds, the performers rhythmically stomp and thrust their bodies in unison, and arch their bodies to yell. The sounds the performers emit can be interpreted as their mode of empowerment and shared celebration of liberation.

Embedded within its lyrics are stories of triumph, struggle, and freedom that resonate deeply for African Americans, especially during the reconstruction and civil rights era. The lyrics of Lift Every Voice and Sing serves as a reminder for Black Americans that each generation has had to lift their voices, along with those within their community, to demand and protect their human rights.

“Let our rejoicing rise

High as the list’ning 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”

Click on the link to view original lyrics:

Not only do the lyrics reflect how violence has been inflicted on the black community, but it affirms and encourages the black collective to remain faithful in their vision despite the struggles they have endured over the centuries. The core message of the poem: through strong faith and solidarity, the black community can move forward and reimagine a world where true liberty is achievable. This message is also conveyed in The Harp by Augusta Savage.


Click on the following picture to go to the next page to learn more about Augusta Savage and her sculpture: