"Lift Every Voice and Sing"

By: Amy Samuels



After listening to the African-American National anthem, students will analyze the lyrics of the hymn in order to identify and explain important historical references.

Keywords: African-American history "Lift Every Voice and Sing"


The students will analyze the lyrics of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in order to identify and explain historical events referenced in the hymn.


Standard 5: Examine the causes, course, and consequence of the Civil War and Reconstruction including its effects on American peoples. (SS.8.A.5)
8. Explain and evaluate the policies, practices, and consequences of Reconstruction (presidential and congressional reconstruction, Johnson's impeachment, Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, opposition of Southern whites to Reconstruction, accomplishments and failures of Radical Reconstruction, presidential election of 1876, end of Reconstruction, rise of Jim Crow laws, rise of Ku Klux Klan). (SS.8.A.5.8)


Academic Preparation

This lesson should be completed after students have learned about slavery and Reconstruction.
Teacher will need to retrieve a copy of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson and provide handouts of the lyrics of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which can be retrieved at http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/contents/3600/3626/3626.pdf


Tapping into students' previous knowledge on slavery and Reconstruction, teacher will show a photograph to students. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c30334/)
Teacher will ask students the following series of questions:
1) What do you see in the picture?
2) Where do you think the picture might have been taken? Why?
3) When do you think the picture might have been taken? Why?
4) How do you think the people in the picture are feeling? Why?
5) Do you see any evidence in the picture of slavery? Explain.
6) Do you see any evidence in the picture of Reconstruction? Explain.
7) Imagining we could fast forward time, if a picture of the same people was taken 100 years later, what do you think it would look like?
After the photo analysis, teacher will explain to students that they are going to listen to the African-American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson.
Ask students to listen carefully to the song to get a feel for what it is about.
After playing the song the first time, ask students to reflect on the song. Some of the following questions could be asked: What did you hear, What was the song agbout, What was the tone of the song, How do you think the artist wants listeners to feel when listening to the song, Why do you think the song was written.
Divide students into pairs. Tell them they are going to work with a partner to analyze the African-American National Anthem.
Pass out the lyrics of the "Lift Every Voice and Sing" to students. http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/contents/3600/3626/3626.pdf
After instructing them to carefully analyze the lyrics while listening to the anthem, play the song for students a second time.
Once the song has been played for the second time, instruct students that they are going to analyze the lyrics to identify and explain historical references.
Pass out the matrix to students.
Instruct students to complete the matrix with their partner.
Once students have completed the matrix, students should share out responses in large group.


Students will be assessed through completion of the matrix.

Extensions and Adaptations

If an extension activity is desired, working in pairs, students could construct a poster to represent "Lift Every Voice and Sing." The posters should include 1) the title of the song, 2) the author of the song, 3) graphics and/or wording to represent the ideas presented in the lyrics.

Estimated Lesson Duration

1hr 00min


  • http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c30334/
  • http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/contents/3600/3626/3626.pdf


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