I recently read The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Wheldon Johnson. Johnson was the polymath who (among so many other experiences and accomplishments) wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which I hope some day the United States will embrace as national anthem…please enjoy this glorious video presented by 105 Voices of History National HBCU Concert Choir.

About The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, from the Penguin website:

“Originally published in 1912, this novel was one of the first to present a frank picture of being black in America. Masked in the tradition of the literary confession practiced by such writers as St. Augustine and Rousseau, this “autobiography” purports to be a candid account of its narrator’s private views and feelings as well as an acknowledgement of the central secret of his life: that though he lives as a white man, he is, by heritage and experience, an African-American. Written by the first black executive secretary of the NAACP, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, in its depiction of turn-of-the-century New York, anticipates the social realism of the Harlem Renaissance writers. In its unprecedented analysis of the social causes of a black man’s denial of the best within himself, it is perhaps James Weldon Johnson’s greatest service to his race.”

The novel is extremely relevant and feels very modern. When I heard “Lift Every Voice And Sing” growing up, I don’t recall learning about the life of the person who wrote it. The resonant anthem seems almost incidental in Johnson’s life story, just one of his many varied works, although music was central to his existence. I’m grateful to know these things now. How different so much would be if I had been taught more about the writer behind the beautiful song, when I was a child.

May we teach our children and ourselves more fully about what our country is made from, so that we may lean toward what it finally may and will be…

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…

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