“Lift Every Voice and Sing” — often called “The Negro National Hymn”, “The Negro National Anthem”, “The Black National Anthem”, or “The African-American National Anthem”— is a song written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954) in 1900.
Lift Every Voice and Sing” was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by 500 school children at the segregated Stanton School. Its principal, James Weldon Johnson, wrote the words to introduce its honored guest Booker T. Washington. The poem was later set to music by Johnson’s brother John in 1905. Singing this song quickly became a way for African Americans to demonstrate their patriotism and hope for the future. In the calling for earth and heaven to “ring with the harmonies of Liberty,” they could speak out subtly against racism and Jim Crow laws—and especially the huge number of lynchings accompanying the rise of the Ku Klux Klan at the turn of the century. In 1919, the NAACP adopted the song as “The Negro National Anthem.”