Saturday, May 24, 2014

Let Freedom Ring

This Memorial Day snuck up on me, with almost another week before the end of May, when I traditionally think of this holiday.  For some reason my thoughts today keep turning to the words of a song that I heard when I was young, sung by my favorite black gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.

I was in Job's Daughters at the time. This is a young women's Masonic affiliated group designed to teach and build character in girls ages twelve to twenty.  I had been elected as leader, which meant that I was responsible for planning six months worth of activities around a central theme.  The theme I chose was Let Freedom Ring and I quoted the words of The House I Live In in one of my several speeches during this time.  The words were touching then and remain so.

Thanks to the world of computers, I looked up this song and you can actually hear it sung by Frank Sinatra (pick a version --the movie version of 1945 is my favorite), and Paul Robeson who sang the lyrics closer to the original version penned by its author. He has a deep rich bass voice, not to be missed.

The second stanza of the original version was considered to be too controversial for it's use in the ten minute movie, The House I Live In made in 1945 where Frank Sinatra sings this song to inspire those fighting in World War II. This original second stanza addressed the work that was still ahead for our nation in order to make this song more accurately reflect the ideal America that its writer envisioned when he wrote it. Sadly, Mahalia Jackson's very reverent and powerful version is more difficult to obtain. No matter whose voice you prefer singing this song, the lyrics written by Abel Meeropol under his pen name of Lewis Allan, are simply beautiful! It apparently became a patriotic anthem during World War II.

The words capture the meaning of what America aspires to and God-willing, always will. Although times have changed and many things are not the same in this country, it is still "the land of the free and the home of the brave", subjects for other blogs I have written and will post this week.  No matter the current issues we face as a nation, I am so privileged to be a citizen of this great country and am so proud of all those who have sacrificed so much in order that freedom still rings for me and for you.  I sincerely thank them all!

The House I Live In
by Abel Meeropol (Lewis Allan)

What is America to me?
A name, a map, the flag I see;
A certain word, democracy.
What is America to Me?

The house I live in,
A plot of earth or street,
The grocer and the butcher,
And the people that I meet;
The children in the playground,
The faces that I see,
All races, all religions,
That's America to me.

The place I work in,
The workers at my side,
The little town or city where my people lived and died,
The howdy and the handshake,
The air of feeling free,
And the right to speak my mind out,
That's America to me.

(Second Stanza Revised Version):
The things I see about me,
The big things and the small,
The little corner news stand
And the house a mile tall.
The wedding and the churchyard,
The laughter and the tears,
The dream that's been a-growing
For a hundred and fifty years.

(Original and "Controversial" Second Stanza Version):
The words of old Abe Lincoln,
Of Jefferson and Paine,
Of Washington and Douglas
And the tasks that still remain,
The little bridge at Concord,
Where freedom's fight began,
Our Gettysburg and Midway
And the story of Bataan.

The town I live in,
The street, the house, the room,
The pavement of a city,
Of a garden all in bloom,
The church the school, the clubhouse,
The million lights I see,
But especially the people,
That's America to me.

Happy Memorial Day 2014!