If African Americans are, as some have proposed, a "nation within a nation," then the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is their anthem. Written in 1900 by the brilliant civil rights leader and author James Weldon Johnson and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson, it was the official song of the NAACP from the 1920s through the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s. During that time, it was sung by millions of black children and even printed in family bibles. This book, edited by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and scholar Sondra Kathryn Wilson, celebrates the song through the testimonials of 100 prominent black and white legislators, politicians, educators, writers, and performers, whose "essays build a multifaceted narrative that elucidates the value and profundity of a song that has vibrantly endured for one hundred years."
Filmmaker Gordon Parks writes that the song "soars from the depths of our history," and that "it urges us to keep moving on until equality and freedom surround us with the oneness of the sky." For music icon Quincy Jones, the Johnson brothers "gave us this noble song to soothe our emotional wounds while, simultaneously, lifting our spirits." Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X's daughter, says the composition "still serves as a reminder of our ancestors and our historical experiences in America." Testimonies from Norman Lear, Bill Clinton, Maya Angelou, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters add further proof of the power and passion of this song, which speaks to the highest ideals of American democracy. --Eugene Holley Jr.
As inspiring as the song it commemorates, this book's publication will correspond with the centennial anniversary of Lift Every Voice and Sing, also known as the Negro National Anthem. James Weldon Johnson and his brother, Rosamond Johnson, composed the song four years after Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decision that institutionalized U.S. racism through the separate-but-equal doctrine. The book contains 100 essays by entertainers, scholars, writers, rap artists, and others on the significance of the song in the struggle for racial justice. Amiri Baraka notes its blossoming beauty. Maya Angelou recalls a childhood memory of black parents and students standing to sing the song in protest when it was announced that black schools in Stamps, Arkansas, would get more domestic training for lives as servants while white schools would get science labs. Other authors include Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, and Bill Cosby. In commemorating the song, Bond and Wilson also present a pictorial history of race in the U.S., with powerful photographs and inspiring social and cultural remembrances. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved