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.
These are the first two stanzas of the song that in 1919 the NAACP proclaimed as the Black National Anthem, a full 12-years before the Star-Spangled Banner was adopted as the National Anthem by President Herbert Hoover.
Lift Every Voice was written by James Weldon Johnson and composed by his brother John Rosamond Johnson over a century ago. This song summons African Americans to have hope, but to never forget the lessons of our dark past. A part of America’s history that has never been honestly taught or acknowledged.
It is critically important that the history of Black America not be whitewashed and told through the distorted lens of white supremacy. It is said that although the North won the Civil War, it surrendered the narrative, allowing the South to lionize their leaders, who were no more than traitors.
The South has changed the story of the Civil War, maintaining that “state rights,” not slavery was the primary cause for the war. Many southerners refuse to call it the Civil War but refer to it as The war between the states. They romanticize the Confederacy, defend the confederate flag, monuments, and statues as being part of their heritage.
The vast majority of confederate flags flying over southern state government buildings and the enactment of monuments and statues were not done until the 1960s, during the Civil Rights Movement. These were not acts done to honor folks who had lost a war that ended a century ago, but to remind Black people, the South would never be in agreement of African Americans obtaining basic human rights.
History is clear that the Civil War was about southern states refusing to abolish slavery. Nothing is clearer that slavery was the reason than the speech given by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, in March of 1861 in Savannah, Georgia.
In the speech called the “Cornerstone Speech,” Stephens said, “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution- African slavery, as it exists with us- the proper status of the Negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution… Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this as the rock upon which the old Union would split. He was right. What was conjecture with him is now a realized fact. The prevailing idea entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the law of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of the races. This was an error… Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery- subordination to the superior race- is a natural and normal condition.”
The unification of the north and south after the Civil War was done without inclusion and equity for Black America. And this country is very comfortable and conditioned to accepting Black pain, and many white Americans are offended when that pain is pointed out. The epitome of privilege is having history re-written so that you don’t have to acknowledge uncomfortable truths. And racism is perpetuated by people who refuse to learn or acknowledge these truths.
An article written by Curtis Bonn for NBC.com tells a story about Joseph B. Hill. Mr. Hill accepted a position as Vice President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Memorial Herman Health Systems in Houston, Texas. A position that he was well qualified for, having worked for 20-years as a Diversity Executive for numerous companies.
Mr. Hill’s trouble began when he met with the realtor that Memorial Hermann had contracted to assist him with finding a home in Houston. Arriving in a Porsche SUV, the realtor made the comment that Mr. Hill was driving a nice rental car.
After the realtor made a few other racially biased comments, Mr. Hill felt obligated to share these micro-aggressive remarks with Memorial Herman’s VP of Human Resources in an email. This individual was representing the company, which had just hired Hill to mitigate these types of behaviors.
Instead of receiving the email in the spirit, it had been sent, Mr. Hill received an email informing him that the offer of his employment had been rescinded. Through additional communication with Mr. Hill’s attorney, it was said that the company no longer felt he would be a good fit. It further stated that the company was uncomfortable with Mr. Hill’s inquiries about hiring staff to build his team; the company didn’t like that he has asked for a larger relocation budget; the company disapproved of him renting a luxury car at its expense, and the company felt that Mr. Hill was too sensitive about race issues.
Because the company never communicated with Mr. Hill, other than the email withdrawing the job offer, they didn’t know the car Mr. Hill was driving was his own. Mr. Hill also stated that he never requested a larger relocation package, and requesting guidance on hiring staff is common when establishing a new department.
Mr. Hill’s experience is a notable example of a couple of things. One, that implicit bias and racism is not a thing of the past. Secondly, that healing and change is not possible when we refuse to face or talk about race.
The latest grievance, being spewed around the country by many in the white community, is the lie that schools are teaching a curriculum on Critical Race Theory. They claim white children are being made to feel bad for being white. What they are really challenging is the inclusion of any real teaching about Black history. They maintain talking about the past keeps the races divided, and more or less, that Black folk just need to get over it.
There is an important balance to be had with the teaching of slavery and systemic oppression with the teaching of the fortitude and strength that Black Americans demonstrated in the fight for equal rights.
Classrooms around America tend to introduce Black people through slavery, omitting thousands of years of African history and contextualizing Black American origin with oppression and violence. It is critically important that not only our suffering be taught, but also our humanity
taught within American history.
Black history is American history, the contributions made by African Americans will not only enlighten all Americans, but it’s important for Black boys and girls to see themselves reflected in American history.
Can We Talk!