Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go.’” Exodus 5:1

CNN recently reported, “‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is known as the Black National Anthem, but it is more than that. It’s a history lesson, a rallying cry, a pledge of unity, and as people gather to fight for equality and justice, it is an ever-present refrain.” The song was written in 1899 by Black brothers, James and John Johnson of Jacksonville, Florida, who worked in the early pursuit of civil rights. James was the principal of a segregated school, debuting the song sung by 500 children at a Black history event.

Following the Civil War, slaves were legally freed in 1865. But the Blacks’ “freedom” was replaced with oppressive state laws during the “Jim Crow” period of segregation, unlawful arrests, violence, and lynching. The lyrics of the song speak to the entire spectrum of Black suffering, but also of hope and peace. The work is “full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,” yet “full of the hope that the present has brought us.” I marvel at how the Black people’s faith in God has survived ever-continuing setbacks in their quest for equality, and how their hopes are not dashed by racism, not just in the United States, but across the globe. I would challenge any White person to take the place of one Black and do as well.

The last stanza goes on to acknowledge that God has “brought (the people) thus far on the way,” and asks that God not let them become “drunk with the wine of the world” and forget Him. The song ends with the words, “True to our God, true to our native land.” Would that each Christian, most of all me, would endeavor not to be swayed by this earthly life and hold dear the faith expressed in this beautiful hymn!

Recently, the National Football League featured Alicia Keys singing “Lift Every Voice” before its season opening games, prompted by police brutality and racial justice protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others. The performance exposed millions of Americans to a moving and inspiring song for our times.

Abiding Lord, lift up all people of color and end racial injustice in our world! Amen

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