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Tim Lake: ‘Build on the Courage’

“Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty …" 

Professor Tim Lake opened his Thursday Chapel talk with the opening stanza of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” perhaps better known as the Negro National Anthem.

Lake recited, from memory, much of the song composed at the turn of the century by James Weldon Johnson to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. He used the song as a foundation for his remarks about America’s racial past and as a challenge to Wabash students reflecting on their future.

He talked of how the Capitol Rotunda was built by slaves and how the great statue atop the Rotunda was transported and reassembled by slaves. He recalled how President Bill Clinton honored civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 1999 with a Congressional Medal of Honor. The president opened the proceeding that day by having the Negro National Anthem played.

Lake added Clinton sang all three verses without a copy and added with a sly grin that many supposed Clinton to be the only white man in America who would know all three verses.

But Lake, in a soaring and at times dramatic style, ended with a challenge to the students who had gathered for the Thursday morning ritual. 

“As we stand on the cusp of a new day in the life of Wabash College, I want to remind us of the courage and the legacy of courage and that you are the inheritors of that courage,” Lake said. The courage he referred to was of the history of black men and women like Rosa Parks, Johnson, and slaves who built some of the nation’s most patriotic symbols despite the odds against them.

He urged students to look at the names of soldiers who died in the Civil War on the great plaque on front of Center Hall. He asked them to go into the President’s Office and see the painting of Abraham Lincoln depicting the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. And then to go over beyond the Lilly Library and look at the name of Malcolm X inscribed on the Malcolm X Institute.

He reminded them “of the veterans, the Great Emancipator, and of a black shining prince – all who were willing to give their lives for freedom.”

“And that’s your legacy,” the future MXI leader said. “Claim the legacy for your own and let us try to create a world of peace.”

- Howard W. Hewitt, Public Affairs.