Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

David was excited. It was Black History Month, and his fourth-grade class was going to participate in the Black History program at his school. All the students and teachers in David’s school were black.

Because of discriminatory housing policies, all the residents for miles around David’s school were black. Although on May 17, 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that school segregation was unconstitutional, overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine, there was no doubt that students in David’s school even today were not receiving an equal education.

The school lacked up-to-date textbooks and other supplies. Fortunately there were devoted teachers who spent part of their salaries trying to fill the gaps by buying up-to-date textbooks to be used as references in the classroom, supplying paper, pens and pencils, and supplying toilet paper, soap and paper towels.

Most importantly, teachers encouraged students to be hopeful, to plan for the future and to know the importance of an education.

David was a dedicated student, so when his teacher passed out copies of the Negro National Anthem and told the class to memorize it, David immediately read it over and over again until he memorized it.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

The first verse may be familiar to most:

1) Lift every voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise,

High as the list’ning skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith

That the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope

That the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun

Of our new day begun,

Let us march on t

Till victory is won.

2) Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chast’ning rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet,

Come to the place for which our fathers

We have come over a way

That with tears has been watered.

We have come, treading our path

Thro’ the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from a gloomy past, till now we
stand at last

Where the white gleam

of our bright star is cast.

3) God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who has brought us thus far on

the way;

Thou who hast by thy might, led us into

the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places

Our God where we met Thee,

Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of

the world

We forget Thee;

Shadowed beneath Thy hand

May we forever stand,

True to our God,

True to our native land.

When David and his classmates went to the auditorium to practice singing the Anthem, David listened closely to the tune played on the piano.

When his teacher held up her hand and motioned for the students to start singing, David proudly and loudly sang the words to the Anthem. His fellow students looked at him and frowned and motioned for him not to be so loud. David’s teacher looked at David and wrinkled her brow.

Sadly, David could not carry a tune.

“Oh, my,” thought his teacher, “What am I to do now? David is so proud of knowing the words.”

When rehearsal was over and the class was on its way back to the classroom, students told David that he sounded awful, and that he would ruin their performance. David could hardly hold back his tears.

At the end of the school day, David’s teacher asked him to stay for a few minutes. When all the students were gone, she went over to David and sat down in front of him.

“David,” she said, “I know the other students have probably not been very kind to you about your singing, but you should understand that there are thousands of other people in the world who are what is frequently called ‘tone-deaf.’ Do you know what that means?”

“No,” said David with a shaky voice staring down at his desk.

“It means that for whatever physical reasons, they can’t hear or produce a given musical sound. This makes it difficult or impossible for tone-deaf people to sing the same note that is being played or sung. But you can still sing a song by yourself. David, you have a great speaking voice, and I think it would be such a big help if you recited the words to the anthem before the class sings them. This would help people in the audience really understand what is being sung. Do you think you can do that?”

“I think so.” David said quietly, still looking down at his desk. His teacher put her hand under David’s chin and lifted his head so that he looked at her.

“I know so, David,” his teacher smiled and said, “You’ll make us so proud.”

David’s teacher got up and extended her hand to David for him to get up, too. She walked him to the classroom door and said, “Thank you, David, for being such an understanding person. Have a good evening. See you tomorrow.”

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...