In Jacksonville, Fla., brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson wrote a song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” for a celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the lyrics, was the principal of the segregated, all-Black Stanton School. On Feb. 12, 1900, 500 of his students sang the song for the president.
Author Kelly Starling Lyons had been taught the song as a child, but she had no idea about its far-reaching influence. Years later, when she visited the Ritz Theatre and Museum in Jacksonville, she learned of the song’s history and impact as it was passed down from parents to children. She discovered it spread from the South of the United States to the North through the Great Migration and other means, gaining in popularity and motivating African-Americans to stand up against discrimination. It eventually became the official song of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
This children’s picture book’s succinct narrative with a repeating refrain—“It was a part of her she wanted to pass on” \ “It was a part of him he wanted to pass on”—portrays how the Johnson brothers’ song was passed down through generations in homes, churches, and schools. Illustrator Keith Mallett’s bright, passionate paintings capture the vision and longing on the faces and in the hearts of African-Americans who sang the song as a prayer to God for help in their struggle and a rallying cry to never give up.
(Nancy Paulsen Books)
Enjoyed this article?
Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Feature: Tending God’s Creation
- Exposing Harassment of OSJ Raises Questions, Hope for Humility
- Book Review: Something’s Not Right