May We Forever Stand

A History of the Black National Anthem

By Imani Perry

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 2 halftones, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6609-9
    Published: October 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3860-7
    Published: February 2018
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3861-4
    Published: February 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5575-6
    Published: February 2018

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2019 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Nonfiction Winner

2019 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize, American Studies Association

Nominee, 50th NAACP Image Awards, Outstanding Literary Work (Nonfiction)

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song's creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day.

In this rich, poignant, and readable work, Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.

About the Author

Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American studies at Princeton University.
For more information about Imani Perry, visit the Author Page.


"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."--Library Journal, starred review

“Through extensive research and eloquent writing, Perry. . . expertly sifts through the layers of black civic, social and cultural history that are inextricably linked to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’”--San Francisco Chronicle

“Excellently researched and sourced.”--Michigan Historical Review

“As a concise look at twentieth-century black activism through the lens of one composition, the book works exceedingly well. . . . Perry's book is a timely reminder of histories forgotten and voices unremembered.”--Journal of American History

“Perry has masterfully researched and written an accessible and captivating cultural history of a transformative and uplifting song adorned with lyrics that have encouraged black people while mirroring their evolution over the past hundred years.”--Journal of African American History

“Imani Perry has done a great service to the field of African American history in tracking this often-cited song through hundreds of black organizations, plays, and works of literature during the twentieth century. In the process, she has made clear that, at least during the age of segregation, a black nation was made in part through singing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’”--Journal of Southern History