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Opinions & Observations: James Weldon Johnson, composer of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ rests at historic Green-Wood

On this Juneteenth, let us all contemplate our country’s legacy of slavery.

June 19, 2020 Richard J. Moylan, President of The Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery’s landmarked gates are an iconic sight. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

On this day, Green-Wood joins with our city and our country in honoring the events of June 19, 1865.

President of The Green-Wood Cemetery Richard J. Moylan. Photo: Chet Berger

History is created by individuals who act bravely and defiantly to change our world. Many of them lie in permanent rest here at The Green-Wood Cemetery, where we all have an opportunity to honor their memories.

One of the most notable is James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) who wrote the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. The song has long been a mainstay of Juneteenth commemorations, as it was again on Friday and at hundreds of occasions throughout the year. Johnson was a poet, novelist, diplomat, and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His wife, Grace Nail Johnson, a civil rights activist and patron of the arts of the Harlem Renaissance, is buried alongside Mr. Johnson.

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On this Juneteenth, let us all contemplate our country’s legacy of slavery. Let us consider how our systems and institutions still reflect the racism that created and perpetuated these injustices. Let us lift every voice.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing
‘Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning 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 ’til victory is won

– From “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,”
James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938)


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