“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

by James M. Wall

After Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States, he delivered a stirring inaugural address that called on Americans to join with him in addressing the problems facing the nation.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily nor in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

His inaugural address was what we have come to expect from the new president, a mixture of realism and inspiration, laced with historical references.

Obama’s speech was followed by a benediction from 87-year-old Joseph Lowery, from Atlanta, Georgia, whose opening words must have sounded familiar to the millions of African Americans in the crowd and around the nation.

Lowery’s prayer began with the third verse of James Weldon Johnson’s hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing, which, since it was written in 1920, has emerged as the “national anthem” of the African American community.

Dr. Lowery was a close friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. They worked together in the early days of the civil rights movement.

Lowery’s presence at the inaugural connected two historic moments in American history, the civil rights movement and the inauguration of our first African American president. (To hear the words and music of the entire hymn, click here). For another version of the hymn, click here.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far along the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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4 Responses to “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

  1. Pauline Coffman says:

    Jim, Your acknowledgement of the Black National Anthem so quickly tells me you know it. That’s when the tears flowed for us today. A powerful anthem, sung at every civic event in the Black community. We have a new President!

  2. Cotton Fite says:

    Jim – In the prayer category, Joseph Lowery outdistanced Rick Warren by about a mile – or maybe a thousand miles. With Warren I felt like I was listening to a speech (ending most unfortunately with the Lord’s Prayer); with Lowery I felt like I was praying – and laughing – and singing -and, of course, crying.


  3. A guy name bob says:

    Lift every voice and sing was written in 1899

  4. Pingback: “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears”— James Weldon Johnson | Wallwritings

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