“Lift Every Voice”

by James M. Wall

An earlier Wall Writings posting, entitled, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, came to mind this rainy May afternoon as I pondered what to share with readers this week during our ongoing period of face masks and shared isolation.

That posting was seven years ago this summer. Since then we have seen Barack Obama complete his second term, Donald Trump elected to one term, and are now experiencing a dizzying campaign season as he campaigns for a second term. link below.

This rememberance, however. is not about political campaigns, it is about a song and two authors.

What follows below are segments lifted from the 2013 Wall Writings posting.

“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.”

Further along in the 2009 posting, I added this about the inauguration:

“Obama’s speech was followed by a benediction from 87-year-old [The Reverend] 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.

The third verse of “Lift Every Voice” appears even more relevant today than it was in 2009. Here are the words that begin the third verse:

“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.”

James Weldon Johnson’s words are significant today because pessimism surrounds the peace talks. [between Palestine andIsrael].

Until we hear further from the negotiations participants, we must wait to see how the occupier and the occupied resolve, for the time being at least, how they will live together.

It is in this time of waiting that I decided to set out on a journey that begins with Johnson’s hymn. On the internet journey I followed a path that led to another eloquent African-American author, Alice Walker. Novelist and poet, Walker has more than thirty books, the best known of which is her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple.

In one of the speeches she delivered to a Palestinian audience during a visit to Ramallah, Walker described her encounter with Israeli border guards when she traveled from Amman to the West Bank by way of the Allenby Bridge.

As the hours of interrogation dragged by at the Allenby Bridge, Walker finally asked one of the young Israeli soldiers peppering her with the usual irrelevant questions, have you ever heard of the novel,  The Color Purple.

The soldier had not heard of the novel nor the film based on the novel, even though the film was directed by Steven Spielberg, an Israeli favorite.

After that visit, which was organized by TEDxRamallah, Walker tried to enter Gaza on a different mission.

Alice_Walker_Ana Elena

In June, 2011, Walker was among 38 people aboard the ship, Audacity of Hope, one of  the ships which tried, and failed, to sail from Greece to Gaza to break the Israeli maritime siege of Gaza. Israel prevailed on Greece to prevent the ships from sailing.

In a 2011 conversation with Ali Abunimah, Walker (right) pointed to the parallels “between the [planned] Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the Freedom Rides during the US Civil Rights movement when black and white Americans boarded interstate buses together to break the laws requiring racial segregation.” . . . . . .

My journey following the path of Alice Walker turned up many examples of the gentle manner in which this remarkable woman stands for justice for the Palestinian people. For example, she is an avid supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. . . . . . .

Finally, in following the path of Alice Walker through the internet, our journey brought me home to Georgia, to my own alma mater, Emory University.

Alice Walker placed the archive of her work in the Manuscript,  Archives,  and Rare Book Library of Emory University in 2008. The Walker Archive was opened in 2009.

One video from the evening honoring Walker features historian-activist Howard Zinn who initially met Alice Walker at Spelman College in Atlanta where he was her teacher during the 1960’s. To view that video, click here.

The Emory event honoring Alice Walker closed with the singing of James Weldon Johnson’s “Life Every Voice and Sing,” the African-American “national anthem” with which we began this journey.  In this way, the circle closes, from James Weldon Johnson, to the Rev. James Lowrey, to President Barack Obama, and finally to Alice Walker.

The young man who leads the singing that closes the evening is an Emory graduate, class of 2011. His name is Garrett M. Turner. He is currently pursuing further graduate work at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.


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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2 Responses to “Lift Every Voice”

  1. Barbara Spoerl says:

    Dear James,

    That was so poignant and moving. Thank you for sharing and also for your words which ring so true always.
    I recently read a new book titled APEIROGON by Colum McCann. I think you might be interested in it also. It takes place in Israel and goes deeply into a connection and a friendship between two men, one a Palestinian and one an Israeli.
    All my best,
    Barbara Spoerl

  2. Dorothy Wonder says:

    Please see “Apeirogon: Another Colonialist misstep in commercial publishing” by Susan
    Abulhawa. Article referenced by JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) Wire, March 12,2020. “Its central message is about the power of empathy… But like (Leon Uris’) Exodus, it tells a true story to sell a much bigger lie.”
    With hope for justice for Palestinians,
    Dorothy Wonder

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