Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us

This weekend reminds us of one of our country’s darkest – and finest– moments.  The Civil Rights movement shaped most of the mid-20th century in this country and is now a movement that has expanded in scope to include differences of sexuality, physical abilities and ethnicities. In recognition of the powerful work of reconciliation effected by Dr. Martin Luther King, that great hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing will undoubtedly be sung by millions of voices around the country this weekend. It was first performed in 1900 as a poem read during a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in a program at a segregated school in Jacksonville, Florida. An event at which Booker T. Washington was the honored guest that day. Imagine the power of these words on the ears and hearts of people just 35 years from slavery.

Lift every voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening 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.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

There is one line that I ponder each time I play this hymn (#599 in The Hymnal 1982) – the final line, True to our native land. What is our native land? Were African-Americans in 1900 thinking about some part of Africa? About the United States, where all in that first audience were mostly likely born? Or could we claim this song for everyone by thinking about our native land as that heavenly place God has created for all of us, regardless of skin color, or political beliefs or “differences” of any kind? Perhaps a native land where reconciliation is not just a goal – it is complete.  A native land suggests a place where we have come from, but in this case perhaps we can make it a place we are all striving to get to.  A place where those better angels of human nature have won.  Maybe that place could be right here and right now.  Why not?

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.

SonyaFirst004

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4 Responses to Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us

  1. Eileen says:

    What a beautiful anthem. Thank you for sharing all the verses, and for your own perspective.

  2. Ok, if you can go to the concentration camps singing like the Jews did in the Holocaust, the more power to you. You can scoff but I tell you this is the darkness. We don’t have slaves, thank God, but there are dark leaders in Congress today.

  3. You have to get past the Civil Rights Movement to something in that spirit but more pertinent to today. It’s like getting past the French REvolution. It was great and it was glorioius and tyranny was overthrown. But then there were other considerations.

  4. Christian says:

    Sonya — 599 is my favorite. I can’t wait to sing it — with gusto. I didn’t know that its roots are in the Civil Rights movement, but it certainly fits. It seems to me that hymn speaks to many people with its proclamation of hope.

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