Lift Every Voice and Sing

Exodus. It’s a story as old as the scriptures that has been replayed in America many times. The Pilgrim’s journey from Great Britain is an exodus tale, as is the Mormon’s journey across the Great Plains. For African Americans, the civil rights movement was their exodus story. Segregation, disenfranchisement, and racism were their Egypt. Today we remember the Moses of the civil rights movement – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1963 King was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for violating a city court injunction against (peacefully) demonstrating for civil rights. While he was jailed, his supporters marched toward the jail in what was a dramatic microcosm of the exodus journey. In the PBS series “God in America,” Andrew Young, aide to Martin Luther King, tells the story that police had blocked the way to the jail with dogs and fire trucks, using fire hoses and barking dogs to intimidate the people. In response, people got down and started praying, and something happened, not only to them, but to the police as well. The dogs stopped barking. And people started singing “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” and moving toward the police. Young saw the red fire trucks moved aside and heard one woman say “Great God Almighty done parted the red sea one more time.” God was on their side. King was released from solitary confinement after eight days, where he had written his now famous open letter, which reminds us all that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is often called the Black National Anthem. It’s a song about exodus. If you’ve ever sung it with a congregation of believers, you know it’s a thrill to sing, because it’s telling a story we can all relate to. A story of a journey sanctified by faith, and protected and prospered by God. Thank God for our American Moseses. As Dr. King said, we may not be in the Promised Land quite yet, but he saw it, and we’ll get there.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmony of liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies;
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us;
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on, till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet, with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out of the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light;
Keep us forever in the path we pray,
Lest our feet stray from the places our God where we met Thee;
Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world we forget Thee:
Shadowed beneath Thy hand may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

  • Ben Spackman

    We learned and sang this in my Chicago ward every year around MLK Day.


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