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Lift Every Voice and Sing
The Black National Anthem
Professor Oscar Pedraza
May 4th. 2014
For my ethnography report, I have chosen for analysis a song called “Lift Every Voice and Sing” written by James Weldon Johnson. This was originally written as a poem but was performed as a song by 500 children from a segregated school in Jacksonville Florida and Booker T. Washington as audience in 1899. I found this song as I did research for a book review I had hoped to do on the civil rights movement. The National Association of the Advancement of Colored People’s website first identifies it as “The Black National Anthem” making its importance clear to those not familiar with it. Although direct access to the handwritten version was not available the content of the song is remarkably extensive. Having been written in an era of segregation and oppression where Jim Crow laws were at their climax, this poem becomes far more than a piece of art turning into a significant part of African American culture. James Weldon Johnson was born in 1871 as a second generation free African American, at the initial attempts of reconstruction after civil war. At 29, when he wrote this poem, he was a lawyer, school principal and writer among other things, later becoming the first African American to be part of the Florida bar. Having the important assignment of writing a piece to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday and the pressure of having Booker T. Washington as audience, he managed to create a magnificent piece. However, knowing its importance and relevance would have less impact as a poem, he asked his brother John Rosamond to make musical arrangements to turn it into a song. In effect, the impact was such, that it has been taught, generation after generation and often used in schools as both musical piece and...
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