“All of African American history is wrapped up in these three verses,” D. Mark Wilson said Wednesday, just before noon, as some 60 members of the campus community gathered to “lift ev’ry voice and sing.”
A few moments later, University Carillonist Jeff Davis, 200 feet above, played the first notes of the song bearing that title, also known as the “black national anthem.”
It was a campus first not lost on anyone present. Led by Wilson, director of the University Gospel Chorus, the group began:
“Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…”
Many knew every word; some pulled up the lyrics on their smartphones for an assist. “The third verse, I don’t know it by heart,” one woman later explained.
Todd McFerren, Facilities Services lead electrician, first learned the anthem in preschool. “To have pride in your culture is very important,” he observed.
The first verse urges faith and hope. The second “gets to the hurt, pain, mutilation” that African Americans have experienced on this continent, Wilson said. “The third verse is a prayer. The music changes; it gets slow.”
The Black Staff and Faculty Organization suggested that the anthem be played on Sather Tower’s massive, 61-bell carillon after learning, from a UC climate survey, how deep the feeling of exclusion runs among the campus’s African American community. James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice” inspires a much-needed feeling of “uplift,” explained BSFO’s LaShonda King.
“We are a people who have had to struggle through a great deal, and done it by understanding that there’s a power greater than us,” noted Denise Boyd, director of human resources and administration at the Haas School of Business. “This is a very meaningful song to our African American culture.”
Listen to an audio clip of the ad hoc chorus here: