Sixth graders recently developed both their musical and artistic skills during an impactful lesson that also carried historical significance.
Lower School Music Teacher Becky Peterson led the lesson, which explored Lift Every Voice and Sing, a 120-year-old song that has gained greater attention this year during nationwide efforts to fight racism and injustice.
Created originally as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, Lift Every Voice and Sing was performed for the first time in February 1900, by students in Florida in celebration of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who was U.S. President during the Civil War, from 1861 until his assassination in 1865.
A brief history lesson: In addition to being a successful poet and writer, Johnson was an educator, who served as a school principal. He later became the first African American man admitted to the bar in Florida and held diplomatic positions serving the United States in Venezuela and Nicaragua, among a host of other career accomplishments.
Johnson's brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People soon adopted it as its official song. Lift Every Voice and Sing has been used to uplift through the years, especially during civil rights movements. According to a recent Washington Post article, it was quoted during the benediction at the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American President in U.S. history. This year, amid racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd, the NFL featured a live rendition of the song before opening its season.
Mrs. Peterson wanted her students to absorb and explore both the harmonic melody of the song and the significance of its words. To achieve this, she first had her students listen to several performances of the song, from a variety of different singers and groups. She then had them to draw pictures that captured their emotions.
Some images the sixth graders drew: The Liberty Bell, the sun cascading down on water, a march to equal rights, and peace symbols, just to name a few.
Mrs. Peterson plans to lead a similar lesson with her fourth and fifth grade students later this school year.
Here are the opening verses of Lift Every Voice and Sing:
Lift every voice and sing,
Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Please listen to the entire song and enjoy some of the sixth graders' artistry:
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