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This post brought forth some remarkable comments!  Check them out!

 "When the Rev. Joseph Lowery rose to offer the closing
prayer at President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, he knew which hymn he
would borrow to start his prayer.  "God of our weary years, God of our
silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way," he
prayed, invoking the third verse from "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the
hymn that’s long been considered the unofficial black national anthem.

"Thou who has by thy might, led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray."

The words rang out across the National Mall that day, and again the
next at the Washington National Cathedral in the sermon preached to the
new president.  For more than a century, they have been used to mark
special occasions, including the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and have become a staple for Black History
Month each February.

"Lowery, a retired United
Methodist minister who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference with King, said he thought the song was entirely appropriate
for the inaugural of the nation’s first African-American president. 
‘It had historicity; it had the religious context,’ said Lowery, who
used the third stanza as a regular hymn of praise in his worship
services for 25 years.  ‘The black experience is sort of wrapped up in
that hymn.’   Though Lowery has always called it a ‘national hymn’
because he didn’t think the nation should have two separate anthems,
many African-Americans give it the same honor as the traditional
national anthem:  They stand when it is sung. 

is our ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ said Jackie Dupont-Walker, social
action chair of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is why
many African-Americans respectfully stand when the hymn is played. 

every voice and sing, ’till earth and heaven ring,’ the song begins. 
‘Ring with the harmonies of liberty.’  Its words include echoes of
slavery and triumphs of freedom, moving from the ‘dark past’ to a
present hope and looking toward the ‘new day’ ahead. 

song traces its roots to a 1900 celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in
Jacksonville, Florida, according to a 2000 book, "Lift Every Voice and
Sing: A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem."  James Weldon Johnson
penned the words for the occasion; his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson,
set them to music.  "Our New York publisher, Edward P. Marks, made
memeographed copies for us and the song was taught to and sung by a
chorus of five hundred colored schoolchildren," he wrote in 1935.  The
song that would catch on across the country initially ‘passed out of
our minds,’ Johnson wrote.  But children kept singing it, he said,
passing it on to other children.  Soon the song was pasted into the
back of hymnals, Bibles and schoolbooks.

song grew in popularity when Johnson became an executive of the NAACP. 
"It was sung at the opening of every meeting," said Roland Carter, who
arranged the popular concert version of the song and is a professor of
American music at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  And ‘We
Shall Overcome’ would be the closing anthem."  In one sign of how
popular the song became, Carter’s arrangement was played in space to
awaken astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2006. 

that a black man presides at the White House, some have wondered if
the country still needs Black History Month, much less a black national
anthem.  The Rev. Vinton Anderson, a retired bishop of the African
Methodist Episcopal Church, sees a future for the hymn.  "I think we
should continue the tradition of singing it," said Anderson, who helped
place the song in the AME Church’s bicentennial hymnal in 1984.  "It
reminds us of where we are, where we’ve come from and where we hope to
go."  The Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of the chapel at predominantly
black Howard University in Washington, believes the hymn isn’t just for
black Americans.  "I think it speaks to the hopes of, particularly,
African-Americans throughout our history," he said.  "But also I think
the song is one that not only gives hope but it also challenges to stay
the path and to recognize the importance and significance of God in the
struggle for freedom."  

"Though the hymn is a
staple in African-American gatherings – from church services to
convocations at historically black universities – it has been embraced
by people of a range of backgrounds.
  The song is included in Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal hymnals, among others. … "

the Rev. Joseph Lowery was chosen to offer the closing prayer at
President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, he knew which hymn he would
borrow to start his prayer.


Washington Post – Comments:

By Adelle M. Banks

"Yes, let’s hear an audiofile of it.
The good hymns are good in so many ways. One gets tired of these modern, insipid pop-hymns (in all denominations).

2 did many good things, but those out-of-tune guitars played by
college kids singing insipid, modern "folk hymns" were forgettable.
Same with the "Yanni"-style protestant-evangelical pop-hymns.

like the hymns with some history to them, the kind of hymns Vaughn
Williams would have codified if he’d heard them. They’ve lasted for a
reason! So let’s have an audio of this one, so we can all learn it.

2/14/2009 8:21:12 PM

I have never heard this song. How about an audio file?

2/14/2009 6:53:40 PM

During the Inauguration, I sat rapt in front of my television.
the entire ceremony was over, I thought back on it and realized I
didn’t remember a thing, not one sentence or the thread of thought Rick
Warren uttered.

However, the moment Rev. Lowrey began to speak and uttered the words of this hymn, I can still see his face in my memory.
His entire benediction was so moving and perfect for the occasion.

would be really cool if you could offer a link so that readers could
actually listen to a rendition of this hymn. It sounds really lovely,
and I wonder if I’ve ever heard it before but never paid attention to
the words.

2/14/2009 12:43:07 PM

remember attending the Martin Luther King celebration at the Kennedy
Center prior to the Inauguration. During the program, "Lift Every Voice"
was listed. At that point in the program, a Caucasian couple bolted
ramrod straight to their feet and stood (faster than a Marine can
salute to the Marine Corps song). The times, they are a changing!"

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