Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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February 28, 2014

Respect doesn't always mean agreement

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Lift ev’ry voice and sing,

‘Til earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

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 ‘til victory is won.

Lyrics by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

Music by John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954)

These are the words of the first verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has been known for generations as the Black American National Anthem. The lyrics were penned by the great African American poet laureate James Weldon Johnson, and were set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson.

According to naacp.org, the song was originally performed by a choir of over 500 children, as part of a celebration of President Lincoln’s birthday, on Feb. 12, 1900. It was sung at the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Fla., where James Weldon Johnson served as the principal. 

Fast forward over 100 years, and on Jan. 20, 2009, I watched, along with millions around the world, as Rev. Joseph Lowery quoted the third verse of this historic song, during his benediction, at the inauguration ceremony for the first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama.

On this last day of February, as Black History Month draws to a close, I am moved to reflect on how far we have come as a nation, and how far we have yet to go towards respect, acceptance and cooperation. A year ago, I wrote in this column, “if we are to strive for excellence in a country as vast and as diverse as our United States, we must find a way to work together — even when we don’t agree on absolutely everything.” I believe with all my heart that this sentiment remains true.

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