Four Portland churches unite to rouse ‘God’s Trombones,’ June 15

James Weldon Johnson photograph

Civil rights leader and poet James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) is being honored in Maine this weekend. This photograph, taken between 1900 and 1920, is from the NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (050.00.00). Courtesy of the NAACP.

Worship, conversation pay tribute to poet, civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson

Nearly 75 years after his death on a rainy Wiscasset morning, poet and early civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) will be honored with worship and community conversation during “God’s Trombones” at Trinity Church, 580 Forest Ave., Portland, on Sat., June 15, at 5 p.m.

A collaboration of four Portland churches, the event is free and open to the public. Donations benefit the Abyssinian Meeting House Restoration Project of Portland.

Church leaders will deliver sermon poems from “God’s Trombones,” the 1927 book in which Johnson sought to capture in verse the powerful instrument of the folk preacher’s voice. In the book’s introduction, he said, “The old-time Negro preacher is rapidly passing. I have here tried sincerely to fix something of him.”

Bringing the sermon poems to life are the Rev. Dr. H. Roy Partridge, Jr., of Trinity Church and Bowdoin College; Bishop Steve Coleman, Williams Temple Church of God in Christ; and the Rev. Kenneth I. Lewis, Jr., Green Memorial AME Zion Church.

After the service, Dean Benjamin Shambaugh of Cathedral Church of St. Luke will lead a community conversation with the preachers about the sermon poems’ significance today.

The Choir of Green Memorial AME Zion Church will sing the service’s spirituals and hymns. Organist Albert Melton of Cathedral Church of St. Luke will play the prelude and postlude.

Also contributing are guests from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brunswick; Linda Ashe-Ford will offer the book’s preliminary “Listen Lord, A Prayer” and the Rev. Alfred Niese will introduce the service. Trinity Church Rector, the Rev. Lawrence Weeks, will welcome the congregation.

Almost 75 years ago, on June 26, 1938, Johnson died in Wiscasset from injuries sustained when his car was struck by a train. Johnson, along with wife Grace Nail Johnson who survived the crash, had been visiting friends in Thomaston.

More than 2,000 mourners flooded Johnson’s memorial service in Harlem. True to his wishes, Johnson was interred wearing his writing clothes, holding a copy of “God’s Trombones.”

He is perhaps best known for “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” his poem set to music by younger brother John Rosamond Johnson. Adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as its official song, it is often referred to as “The Black National Anthem.”

Gifted at uniting diverse groups for a shared purpose, Johnson made contributions to music, literature, history, education, journalism, law, diplomacy and civil rights during his 67 years.

He forged new paths as the first African-American to pass the Florida Bar, be appointed U.S. consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua, serve as faculty at New York University and become executive secretary for the NAACP, where he organized a national campaign to criminalize and eradicate lynching. Johnson also helped establish the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

For more information, call (207) 443-8613.

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