Lift ev’ry voice and singExcerpt from Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Lyrics by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson
‘Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won
Many a day as I completed my dissertation in 2019 on how White elites wield anti-Blackness to facilitate disproportionate resource access and political control I thought, “Hasn’t this been written before—what’s the point?” But then I’d remember – it must be written about until it’s no longer true.
Today, as I situate my research findings in U.S. history from the slave era forward, I’m struck by two forms of resilience: (1) the tenacity of racialized capitalism in extracting from Black people and their communities and, (2) Black people’s unwillingness to concede to White domination—demonstrated in the brilliance with which we assert our humanity. We, as my grandmama would say, “made a way out of no way.” And the paths we charted continue to make way for conceptualizing freedom more expansively than those usually given credit for establishing our country’s commitment to liberty and justice for all. Black people, a “race” formed of dozens of ethnic groups from West Africa, were forcibly removed from the continent by White powerbrokers who then crafted social boundaries where biological ones never existed. Ever since, we have dug a well of wisdom reflecting our experience of “unfreedom” in America, (to borrow Angela Davis’s term.)
“Ubuntu,” a word common among many African ethnic groups, meaning “I am because we are,” synthesizes a core theme of Black people’s wisdom. The tension every thriving society navigates lies between individual development and nurturing communal bonds…so all can thrive. Every generation of Black folk on these shores speaks and writes on this. I think of David Walker’s Appeal to end slavery published in 1829; Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” in 1851 and a year later Frederick Douglass’s oration, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” And then we find W.E.B. Du Bois’s tome Black Reconstruction in America published in 1935, wherein he chronicles Black people’s strides during the first 10 years after the Civil War.
Two mid-twentieth century deposits into our wisdom well stand out: The Black Panther Party for Self Defense 10-Point Program (1967) and the Black feminist Combahee River Collective Statement (1977). Viewed as “radical” groups in their day, much of their wisdom is today’s common sense. For instance, the breakfast program instituted by the Black Panthers is current national policy. Both agendas call for full inclusion of the most marginalized people through policies invested in social and physical infrastructure.
Presently, under the mantra Black Lives Matter, several organizations continue the call to replace life-negating social systems with those that are life affirming. Exemplars you might learn about and support include: Color of Change, Black Futures Lab, and Poor People’s Campaign.
This is my lineage! Hebrews 11 declares we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” who have gone on to glory and now cheer us on as we run the race the Lord has set before us, each of us seeking to bring into fulfillment the fruits of our faith, and the deepest desires of a just, merciful God who created us for abundant lives.
It must be written about until it’s no longer true.”
So, with Ph.D. in hand as I walk alongside my students and fellow faith keepers, I tell myself: “It’s your turn, Angie—fight the good fight, finish your course…get into ‘good trouble,’” as John Lewis admonished. In/out, in/out…the breath of the Spirit fills me, I summon my courage, and my voice reaches for harmony with my Creator: “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on ’til victory is won!”