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You Tube’s three stanzas of the anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” moved me deeply, its one hundred-year-lyrics still sung in Black Churches, in Black History Month seminars, and other events. The anthem’s vision speaks to those willing to listen: a plea for Liberty to the God of silent tears.

The dismal failure of the Civil War Post-Reconstruction in late nineteenth-century America compelled James Weldon Johnson, lawyer, school administrator, prolific writer, and poet in Jacksonville, Florida, to compose these lyrics. Tears flooded him after listening to his brother’s rendering them in the word-painting technique: the melding of images upon the soulful melody in A flat major, often used in spirituals.

“ Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first presented to honor the1900 visit of educator Booker T. Washington to the Black school, Stanton, where Johnson was principal. Those five hundred singers, many becoming teachers, carried the anthem with them, and taught other classrooms, which, in turn, spread this vision of hope.

In 1919, the NAACP proclaimed, “ Lift Every Voice and Sing” the Black National Anthem of America; it also spirited the1960s Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King.

YouTube carries several versions of this stirring anthem.

Poverty with its multi-faceted violence scours psyches of survivors eking out a living—but not all are left in dust-pommeled gangways—throughways for rats—as recounted in Vivian Gibson’s memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek (2020).

As a pre-teen, she witnessed the 1959 demolition of the historic four-hundred-square-foot neighborhood of twenty thousand underpaid African American workers in St. Louis, Missouri; its benign neglect, for decades, had contributed to the Mill Creek’s “blightedness” that green-lighted government funding for another Interstate for suburban workers, needing faster access to their city jobs. After the quick work of the medicine balls and tractors, Mill Creek’s bombed-out landscape became known as “Hiroshima Flats.”

What could have been a scorching account of disrupted families, churches, and businesses—a viable through invisible community to the world around it—it was told with honesty, humor, replete with wisdom. Life inside those cold-water flats, heated by coal and wood-burning stoves, many with no indoor plumbing, was not without its rules and consequences. Unique patterns of communication developed among families, bonding them for life.

Such experiences had unfolded within the Ross’s 800-square-foot flat in the 2600 block of Bernard Avenue where lived the author’s seven siblings and her parents, their teachers of positive self-regard, resourcefulness, and the value of education and hard work. All moved through daunting hardships—at times—with ease. Detailed accounts jumped off the pages: their Saturday morning “shopping” at Soulard Market, returning home on the streetcar with bags of bruised fruits and vegetables, left on the ground by the farmers. No one was ever hungry in the Ross household.

Vivian Gibson’s unflinching acceptance of her hardscrabble beginnings contributed to the accomplished woman she has become: author, fashion designer, cook, wife, and mother. She has much to teach us in her memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek.

Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Available on Amazon

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