For one of our Juneteenth activities, let’s learn about the Black national anthem with this Lift Every Voice and Sing lesson.
Life Every Voice and Sing poem lesson
Thank you to Danette Sajous for sharing with me how her family celebrates Juneteenth and her encouragement to create this unit.
Today let’s talk about the poem/song Lift Every Voice and Sing, which has become the African American national anthem.
In this lesson your children can:
:: learn about the origin of this song
:: consider national anthems, why we have them and their value
:: listen to the Black national anthem, sung by children
:: read and discuss the poem Lift Every Voice and Sing
:: consider what they would include in a national anthem
Ready-made Juneteenth Unit lesson plans
This lesson is taken from our ready-made Juneteenth Unit. The Juneteenth Unit is one of the units in our Play Academy curriculum Festivals pathway. This curriculum has an excellent range of units that you can fit together to create an in-depth and engaging programme for your children, all based on the festivals and holidays of the year.
All our units teach through hands-on learning. Rather than staring at a screen or filling in uninspiring worksheets, the Play Academy gives you ready-made, easy-to-lead, creative lessons that enable your children to learn through making, playing, doing, cooking, investigating, storytelling, imagining, chatting, thinking and laughing.
What is a national anthem?
A national anthem is a special song that represents a country. Every country has one and they are sung at special events such as concerts, sporting, and community events.
Which national anthems have you heard? Can you sing the national anthem of your country?
You can hear a selection of national anthems below, with some details about the origin of each song. Which one is your favorite?
Why do we have national anthems?
Talk about why you think we have national anthems. Why do people like to have one song that everyone in their nation can sing together?
Some words and ideas you might like to talk about include:
The Black African American national anthem
African Americans have their own national anthem based on the words of a poem, called Lift Every Voice and Sing. The words were originally written as a poem, by James Weldon Johnson. His brother, John Rosamond Johnson, was a composer and wrote music for the poem, turning it into a song.
As James Weldon Johnson explains:
“A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children. Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country.“
The song is now sung across the United States and thought of as the Black national anthem.
Read through the poem below. You can also listen to the children from the Elijah Stroud Elementary School in Brooklyn, New York sing and sign the anthem below.
Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson
(in the public domain)
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies 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 from 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 hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast 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.
:: What message do you think Lift Every Voice and Sing gives?
:: What does “Ring with the harmonies of Liberty” mean?
:: Do you have any questions about the song?
:: Why do you think it is important to have a Black national anthem?
:: If you were to write a national anthem, what words and messages would you include?
You might like to learn the words to the anthem and sing it along with the children Elijah Stroud Elementary School.