Music can sometimes provide in sound a clear and more accurate look into the soul of a people. Two such hymns, written in the midst of sorrow and suffering, galvanized oppressed people and motivated followers for generations. The songs have provided hope for the hopeless and lifted the faith of those whose faltering feet still faced a difficult journey ahead. Over a century later, in an unlikely but extraordinary intersection of faith and good works, these two hymns, along with those who lead the organizations the songs still inspire, came together in a most providential way.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is the national hymn of the NAACP and “Come, Come Ye Saints” is the great pioneer hymn of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Leaders from these organizations, Reverend Amos C. Brown and President Russell M. Nelson, have linked, and firmly locked, arms in order to bless our Heavenly Father’s children.
Reverend Brown, who is the chair of religious affairs for the NAACP, delivered the rousing introduction of President Nelson before the prophet addressed the National convention in Detroit, Michigan, last Sunday.
I asked Reverend Brown about his connection with President Nelson. He began reflecting on his visit with Church leaders in Salt Lake City last year which included quoting portions of these two inspiring hymns.
Reverend Brown began, “These two songs, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ and ‘Come, Come Ye Saints’ are about a people, who in spite of being oppressed — excelled, achieved and remained loyal to this country and loyal to their God.”
The Reverend continued, “‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ has the line, ‘Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;’ But there is also the line that says, ‘Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died.’”
Reverend Brown then said, “I had a ‘Wow’ moment when I reflected on the fact the Mr. Clayton had written, ‘Come, Come Ye Saints,’ which tells the story of the struggles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when they were persecuted.”
In bold, powerful, reverent and respectful tones, Reverend Brown continued, “In that song they (the Latter-day Saints) didn’t get bitter, they became better and they endured. And they sang, ‘Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;’ and I love that phrase, ‘Grace shall be as your day.’ So, ‘Gird up your loins; fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake; And soon we’ll have this tale to tell — All is well! All is well!’ ”
This historic civil rights leader then concluded, “I feel that President Nelson and our President Derrick Johnson along with our National Chairman Leon Russell and yours truly (Reverend Brown), will be able to say, ‘It can be well in this nation’ when we lock arms, as I locked arms with President Nelson. Not as black and white. Not as Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Baptist. But as children of God who are about loving everybody and bringing hope, happiness and health to all of God’s children.”
Songs with similar words, sung to vastly different tunes, in distinctively unique organizations have harmonized the love of God and raised the sacred strains that come from loving our neighbors as ourselves — lift every voice and sing — “All is well!”
— Boyd Matheson is the opinion editor and head of strategic reach at the Deseret News.