Local organizations united to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by Jacksonville’s very own James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson. Held at he Ritz Theater and Museum, the celebration highlighted the contributions the Johnson brothers had locally and nationwide.
“My hope is that we express our appreciation to them while educating a new generation on the impact and meaning of this great song” said event Co-Chair Tony Hill.
The song was originally written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in 1900 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954) in 1905. The anthem was first publicly performed as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln‘s birthday at Stanton, the second school for black children in the state of Florida. James Weldon Johnson was the school’s first principal when it was begun as an elementary school serving the African-American population under the then-segregated education system. Each year the school added more grades until the school reached the 12th grade. In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dubbed it “the Negro national hymn for its power in voicing a cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people.”
School Superintendent Dianna Green welcomed the more than 300 guests to the program, while sharing Duval Count Public Schools 85% High School graduation rate. The program included musical selections from Edward Waters College Jazz combo, the Posh Factory Performing Arts Center and reflections from Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick, Sr., pastor emeritus Bethel Baptist Institutional Church. Festivities culminated with “Life Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” sung by local school choirs and the multicultural audience in unison. Shown l-r with their programs is Nu Beta Sigma chapter Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity President Will Evans, Event Co-Chair Tony Hill, Anita Shepherd and Ritz Museum Curator Adonnica Toler.