That damn song about ancestors

Right after I got back to Albany, after my mother’s funeral in February 2011 in Charlotte, NC, I attended the church service of my current congregation. It was Black History Month, and I had helped organize the events, but did not participate much in them. I’m standing in the congregation, rather than singing in the choir, when we got to do Lift Every Voice and Sing.

I’m singing it, as I’ve done dozens of times in the past. We get to the lyrics:
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last

And I start sobbing uncontrollably. Don’t know if anyone, except The Wife, noticed, but I was unable to sing anymore.

I’m reminded of this because it’s always the last song we perform at my church in Black History Month, and I am still unable to get through the song without crying at some point, and that had not been an issue before 2011. I think it’s that “adult orphan” thing, that my parents are gone and have joined my ancestors, that there is no one else in an earlier generation in my lineage – my parents were both only children – and somehow I’ve become the eldest member of my tiny little tribe on earth, the children and grandchildren of Les and Trudy Green, who were married March 12, 1950 in Binghamton, NY.

LISTEN to Lift Every Voice and Sing.

6 thoughts on “That damn song about ancestors”

  1. My dad passed in 1992 and my mom just turned 80. She’s the last of her siblings, and I think some days that’s really hard on her. When her time comes, I’ll only have one sister left from current/previous generations. Not sure how I’ll handle that.


  2. Roger, I remember Vestal Junior High, and a marvelous choral director named Fitzroy Stewart. If you ever had an opportunity to see any of his community orchestras, you were privileged indeed. I was in seventh grade. We were already doing “The Hallelujah Chorus,” and singing it with gusto. Fitz (we stayed friends) conducted the whole thing with his head while playing the piano. What a gorgeous man. I had a huge crush on him, and part of it was his menthol Jamaican accent. He simply oozed kindness.

    After I graduated, I went back to the Junior High to his one of his new classes. This was around 1972, I think. Before the choir sand, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Fitz turned around and asked the audience to rise for the singing of the Black National Anthem.

    The hush was deafening. This was Vestal “see, we’re so liberal, we have a black teacher.” Well, I was in the four row and I stood. Then I eyeballed a few people and they sheepishly rose, but not so much out of respect as out of embarrassment that one white girl would do such a thing.

    He was made to feel horrible at Vestal and finished his teaching days in the Endicott school system. Last time I saw him was with his wife, a cool lady named Ghislane – a white woman – probably another reason he was drummed out.

    As you can tell, this song brought back a lot of memories. Thanks so much, Roger. Amy


    1. Amy – did I ever mention that my sister and I went to Vestal JHS when we were in JHS (or maybe HS) ourselves, just so his students could “rap” with some black kids? (Rap had a different meaning then.)


  3. Roger, that’s hilarious. You and your sister travelled to the suburbs so that the suburban school kids could talk to Real Black People. I love it. I hope you didn’t scare them too much.


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