It's a beautiful, peaceful morning in creation for me on this Memorial Day 2013 and I'm of a mind to share a few generic photos that are representative of the day but also a song that's quite famous in the black community. It's a love song to the nation, arising out of the Christian tradition, from Black America; it's a song about gratitude, perseverance, faith and dignity generated by a people who made a way out of no way. A can-do people. A song, unfortunately, that is steadily being bastardized into a song of grievance, bitching and moaning.
The song, however, is so beautiful, so magnificent, it will surely survive this unfortunate descent which is endemic to our times.
First, the photos of Memorial Day. My U.S. Army pride wants to highlight the best of the best military honor guards -- the Army's Old Guard, forever on duty at Arlington National Cemetery:
The solemn entrance
The steady approach
Representative of all who served, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Not just another holiday, it's a very special day.
Next, my Florida Boy pride wants to highlight Lift Every Voice and Sing -- not a separatist or black nationalist tune by any means. Properly understood, it's a love song to the nation. These are the words of the writer himself, James Weldon Johnson, of Jacksonville -- principal of the first black public high school in the State of Florida:
A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children.
Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.
The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.
Note that there wasn't an agenda beyond celebrating the birthday of the first Republican president. A president, by the way, representing a political party first organized around the political principle of eliminating slavery. Thus, the love song of affirmation to the nation. Thus, the generation of a song of perseverance, faith and dignity in the face of rigid segregation and discrimination.
But it most assuredly was not, and is not, a song of grievance, bitching and moaning. And I quite rightly revere it. Here are the words:
Lift every voice and sing,
Till 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.
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 till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last,
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
The poetry of the song, the heartfelt affirmation of it, the respect to God Almighty -- just beautiful! Our God is the Triune God and our native land is not Africa (that's our ancestral homeland), our native land is the United States of America.
Now, for a representative example of the gross bastardization of the historic tune, take a listen, and a look, at this:
Although not performed with my understanding of the old-school style (where the six lines of prayer are collectively read as a communal prayer, and not sung), it's still a beautiful rendition of the song. But quite obviously visually politicized in the extreme, correct? You couldn't miss, could you, the image of the man with whip marks all over his back just as the "harmonies of liberty" line was being sung.
Did you see Abraham Lincoln at all? Curious, and historically ignorant. How many positive images of white people? Odd, and historically wrong. I see black troops from the Civil War but no white troops. Shameful. It has all the markings of too-clever-by-half academicians or political partisans of the left-wing.
A Balm in Gilead, indeed.
Well -- this too shall pass. I'm quite confident of that. So, in the spirit of the recently released America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America's Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, I'd like to wish one and all Americans a very Happy Memorial Day. No matter how bleak, no matter how repressed -- I will never lose faith in this incredible nation.