From the Archives: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Author James Weldon Johnson’s NYU Chapter

February 27, 2024

—from "Lift Every Voice and Sing"When Grammy-winner Andra Day performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Super Bowl earlier this month, a worldwide audience of 123 million people listened to its message of African American struggle and resilience. Today, the University honors his legacy of intellectual curiosity and social impact with the James Weldon Johnson Professorship, which offers research support to NYU faculty. As one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson was, himself, a true Renaissance man. A civil rights activist, poet, lawyer, politician, writer, and educator, he was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1871, just eight years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. He then studied law, and in 1898 became the first African American admitted by examination to the Florida Bar.

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 died.


—from "Lift Every Voice and Sing"


When Grammy-winner Andra Day performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Super Bowl earlier this month, a worldwide audience of 123 million people listened to its message of African American struggle and resilience. Evoking the Biblical exodus from slavery, the song was a frequent soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and is often called the Black National Anthem.

NYUers watching that performance may not have been aware of its connection to a major milestone in the University’s history: The lyrics of the song were written in 1900 by James Weldon Johnson, who would 34 years later become the University’s first Black faculty member. Today, the University honors his legacy of intellectual curiosity and social impact with the James Weldon Johnson Professorship, which offers research support to NYU faculty. They represent disciplines such as law, education, global public health, and the arts, and are engaged in projects including the  NYU Migration Network, the Attachment and Health Disparities Research Lab, and Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration.

As one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson was, himself, a true Renaissance man. A civil rights activist, poet, lawyer, politician, writer, and educator, he was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1871, just eight years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. He attended the Stanton School, the state’s first all-Black elementary school (where he would later become principal), and eventually graduated from what is now Clark Atlanta University, the first HBCU established in the South. He then studied law, and in 1898 became the first African American admitted by examination to the Florida Bar. 

 

The source of this news is from New York University

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