Each time I attend at Liberty Hall I come away with the music of the Universal Ethiopian Anthem Ringing in my ears. The melody is a stirring one possessing the power and the grip of La Marseillaise. The last time I heard it rendered it roused me even more than on the previous occasions I had heard it sung. All national anthems have a history. What was it that impelled the composer of this beautiful devotional inspiring anthem with this theme?
I guess quite a number of persons have been similarly impressed. But all whom I have asked could tell nothing more about it than it was written by Mr. Arnold Ford, the talented musical director of the organization. And so I sought out Mr. Ford, and I give for the benefit of the large circle of readers of the Negro World the history of this soul-inspiring song anthem which ought to mean so much to every member of the Negro race, and particularly those belonging to the U.N.I.A. I tell the story exactly as given to me by Mr. Ford, and I fell sure than it will find a treasured place in the history of the race when the time comes along for our history to be written.
The Universal Ethiopian Anthem (the National Anthem of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League) was written at, or within a stone’s throw, of the site where a young Negro girl about 17 years of age was found brutally murdered and dissected in the year of 1919.
The rumor current at the time was that she – like the majority of our young girls who are driven into all kinds of servitude through economic pressure to eke out a daily existence – was forced to take a position as a servant girl in a country place with a white master and mistress who were Negro haters.
“In this isolated place and with no one to protect her, it was not long before she was raped by her white master and was about to become a mother. Having no one else to confide in, and finding trouble growing upon her at last resolved to tell the whole story to her mistress, hoping to receive some measure of sympathy or relief. She got relief. The result was that her body was found in a nearby city in a meadow one fine morning just after a shower of rain, her arms and legs broken, her body mutilated. It was a gruesome find.
It was further rumored that a man and wife from a neighboring country town (aliens from Europe) were arrested for the crime but shortly afterwards released.
A peculiar thing was the newspapers of that city, black and white, which vividly portrayed the crime on the first day, suddenly, when the crime was traced, ceased to mention anything more about it, and as far as we know justice has yet to be meted out for that dastardly act against humanity.
With such conditions confronting us as a race of people, and with only one organization which has a program for the relief of this suffering race, it was on the site of this tragedy that the composer of the Universal Ethiopian anthem was inspired to write the verses:
Ethiopia, the tyrant’s falling
Who smote the upon thy knees
And they children are lustily calling
From over the distant seas.
Jehovah the Great One has head us
Has noted our sighs and our tears
With His spirit of Love he has stirr’dus
To be One thro’ the coming years.
Advance, advance to victory
Let Africa be free, etc.
O, Jehovah thou God of the ages
Grant unto our sons that lead
The wisdom Thou gav’st to Thy sages
When Israel was sore in need
Thy voice thro’ the dim past has
Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hand
By Thee shall our fetters be broken
And Heav’n bless our dear Motherland.
Advance, advance to victory
Let Africa be free, etc.
There is yet another verse (unwritten) in this poem which memorizes the scene, we will quote here so that you may cut it out and memorize it as it does not appear in the regular anthem. It is as follows:
Oh, her RED blood they spill’d on the
Shall always be dear to me;
Her BLACK form that laid on the meadow,
Cried out, “Africa must be free.”
The red and the black tearful given
The GREEN grass did tenderly screen,
And the rain fell, bright teardrops from heaven,
On the Red and the Black and the Green.
Advance, advance to victory,
Let Africa be free
Advance to meet the foe
With the might
Of the Red, the Black and the Green
The author makes no apology to poetical critics for the liberties taken with the miter of the verse against the set European standards and poetic license. What is done here is done with full cognizance of the rules of the poetic foot, as may be attested by other poetic works of his.
This anthem (The Universal Ethiopian Anthem) has a meaning, a purpose and an individuality of its own.
It would be an injustice to conclude this narrative without giving due credit to Mr. Ben Burrell for the inspiration of the first verse of this poem. This verse, although somewhat changed from its original wording is nevertheless, in spirit, the product of his brain and due recognition should be given him for his contribution to the production of the words of the first Universal Ethiopian Anthem since the days when Egypt and Ethiopia ruled the world.
Nor can we leave unsaid a word of praise for our fearless and intrepid leader, the Hon. Marcus Garvey, who gave us all hope, courage and the overwhelming inspiration to work and contribute our mite and might for the redemption of our Motherland Africa.
The music is the original composition and arrangement of the composer including the copying of the plates from which the original publication was printed.
The whole composition was completed in the year 1919 and at the before mentioned place. We do not care to mention the name of the city (which is in America) here as the crime was nothing less than a blot on the name of that fair city, which has an equal percentage of black and white people living peacefully together.
It is believed the perpetrators were from outside and sought that quiet spot for convenience.
In conclusion—to all—black men and women, Africans or people of aboriginal African blood, be you fair or dark; to all whom the whiteman can conveniently apply the term “Negro,”
In the name of Jehovah this anthem is sacredly and respectfully dedicated by the composer Arnold J. Ford.
Ras Michael revisits and performs at the downtown church he attended as a little youth.