May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem

Univ. of North Carolina. Feb. 2018. 296p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781469638607. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781469638614. SOC SCI
In tribute to blacks’ emancipation from slavery, James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) wrote the words, and his brother John Rosamund Johnson (1873–1954) drafted the music for a poetic song first performed in 1900 to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Perry (African American studies, Princeton Univ.; Prophets of the Hood) follows the trajectory of the Johnsons’ creation as it rose to become an anthem of black American identity and pride, and a reflection of black social and cultural history. Situating the song amid national and international political and social movements, Perry connects the gleam of its lyrical vision to black civic imaginings and institutional life during the 20th and into the 21st century. She explores the content and the lyrics as they relate to resilience and struggle within black communities, as people determined to “march on till victory is won.”
VERDICT Perry provides exegesis and exhortation in explaining how a song captured a culture, and in turn became a cultural captive held fast by emotional ties of a diverse people; hers is a work for adolescents and academics, indeed for any readers interested in at least glimpsing a sense of a pulsing, resilient black consciousness. Highly recommended.
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