The Cavalier Daily
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100 Years of Fortitude

Julian Bond sat quietly sipping his Frappuccino as people milled around or flipped through magazines in the cafe at Barnes and Noble bookstore.

Some of these patrons eyed the NAACP chairman and University professor in the few minutes before his scheduled book signing and discussion of "Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem, 100 Years, 100 Voices."

In celebration of the Black National Anthem centennial, Bond and co-editor Sandra Wilson compiled 100 essays by artists, politicians and educators reflecting on their personal experiences with the song.

"The song always moved me, and I wanted to see if people could describe how it moved them in writing," Bond said.

Dressed smartly in a suit jacket and red tie, Bond handled reporters and onlookers' questions with the ease of someone accustomed to the limelight. The presentation, planned as part of the celebration of African American History Month, began with a performance by the University's Black Voices choir.

The choir, dressed in black, delivered a soulful rendition of James Weldon Johnson's famous song to an attentive and diverse audience.

"Lift Every Voice," popularly known as the Black National Anthem, was adopted by the NAACP in the 1920s as its official song.

Johnson wrote the song in Jacksonville, Fla., to commemorate Lincoln's birthday in 1900.

The Black Voices choir got the opportunity to honor Johnson and his song Tuesday.

Second-year College student Shawn Scott Lipsey, a member of Black Voices, expressed the choir's excitement with performing in the event at Barnes and Noble.

"It means a lot that we get the opportunity to be a part of this," he said.

Lipsey went on to relate his childhood memories of the song: "I grew up singing it in church in February. It is a reminder of the things I need to keep in mind that I didn't have to face directly."

As Bond strode to the podium, the audience leaned forward in anticipation of hearing the words of the legendary black leader. Bond spoke with quiet elegance and directed his audience to focus on Johnson's song rather than his own work in compiling the book.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful song," Bond said. "I hope it will make people remember harder times and the struggle to overcome those times and be more determined to face the future."

Bond hopes the book will popularize "Lift Every Voice" and bring people to understand and appreciate its role in the civil rights movement.

As an example of the song's obscurity, Bond cited his "History of the Civil Rights Movement" class. Of the students in the course, 25 percent are black. When he asked if anyone knew the song, only six out of 200 people raised their hands.

Like Bond's students, not everyone at the book signing was familiar with the song.

David Maurer, waiting to get his copy of "Voices" signed, reiterated the book's importance.

"As a white guy, I wasn't even aware the song existed" he said. "Then I read the book and realized how important it was."

Though Bond is committed to the book's main theme, he credits co-editor Dr. Sandra Wilson, the executor of James Weldon Johnson's estate, with coming up with the original idea. Bond and Wilson collaborated to choose 100 people to contribute essays on their experiences with the song.

"It was difficult to choose just 100 people," Bond said. "We tried to get a good mix of famous and not-so-famous people."

Bond chose not to contribute an essay on his experience with the song, despite his involvement with the civil rights movement as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s.

"I wanted to hear what others had to say," he said.

Bond stressed that, in addition to honoring Johnson and "Lift Every Voice," the book is valuable in that it contains "simply fabulous scenes of black life."

Some especially poignant photographs in the book include one of a black man with his daughter holding a white doll in 1915 and another of an NAACP-sponsored silent protest march in New York in 1917. One photograph captures Lint Shaw, who was lynched by a mob in Royston, Ga., in 1936, eight hours before he was to stand trial on charges of attempted assault.

The book had been well received, Bond said. Since being published by Random House just before Christmas, it has sold over 60,000 copies, despite having received little publicity. Bond attributes its success in sales to word of mouth.

In Bond's mind, the value of the book is timeless. "It means that all these memories have been preserved," he said. "It means 100 years from now, people can look back and see what the song they are singing meant to their ancestors."


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