Lift Every Voice and Sing

Prepare the way of the Lord,
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

— Excerpts from Luke 3

When he was still in elementary school, I took our oldest son, Walker, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally at the Langston Hughes Center in Seattle’s Central District and the march downtown that followed. When the standing-room-only crowd broke into song, I was surprised to see our son rise, respectfully to his feet, and sing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by heart, and sang it with all his heart.

The music teacher at Madrona Elementary School was married to an Africa Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) pastor. She had taught her students to stand and sing the song with conviction. I was moved to tears as my son participated in that powerful gathering of people honoring the legacy of the civil rights struggle and continuing to call out and demand equity and justice. He participated in the power of the history, the lament, the community, the cause, the witness, the hope.

This month, I was grateful when the local UMC I attended for worship on MLK Day included the song in their service, invoking the long, bloody struggle from enslavement to justice and equity for Black people in America.

As United Methodist Christians, I hope that we all carry in our hearts a yearning for racial equity and justice as a gift and challenge from Jesus. I hope we all know the work isn’t finished,

  • that all Americans have work to do to make the American Dream equally accessible to every American,
  • that white European-American immigrants to this land have had unfair access to the riches and opportunity embodied in the “American Dream” since Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492, and since people were first captured and enslaved in Africa and transported to America in 1619.

God’s good vision of human community cannot be achieved without racial justice and equity.  And it cannot be achieved unless people who benefit from inequality and those who are deprived by it work to name and dismantle the systems that protect white privilege and preserve exclusion and oppression.

February is Black History Month. I hope you will use “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in some way in worship this month. It is # 519 in The United Methodist Hymnal and is in the public domain, so you don’t need copyright permission to use the words or music. Be sure to share the history of the hymn, when it was written, by whom, for what occasion and how it came to be known as the Black National Anthem.

Consider using the TREASURE HUNT below to deepen your appreciation and love of this song. Use the linked resources to find the answers to the questions in the box and the resources offered.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” TREASURE HUNT

Searching for Treasure

  • When was the song written? In Black history, what is this period of history called?

  • Who wrote the words and music?
  • How are United Methodists connected to the writers/composers?
  • Is the Black National Anthem only for Black people to sing?
  • Why is it called the Black National Anthem?
  • What occasion was it written for?
  • What member of Congress proposed legislation to designate “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as America’s national hymn?
  • What one line from the song will you carry in your hearts, as a follower of Jesus?

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