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God Bless America

  • Lucy Neeley Adams
  • Updated Jul 02, 2010
God Bless America

Pretty soon we will see bright fireworks, and beautiful flags waving in the wind. As we once again joyfully celebrate our freedom and ask God to continue to bless us, the prayer-song God Bless America will be heard throughout the United States.

During these happy times, we might remember some dark times when we have sung this song through voices of sadness. In tears, we have prayed that God would stand beside us and guide us through the night with His light from above.

It took the writings of Booker T. Washington (1865-1915), who founded the Tuskeegee Institute, to guide my thinking toward America's dark days of slavery. Many prayers were prayed and sung about the dreams of freedom the black slaves longed for. It all began in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. Twenty Africans were brought to America on a Dutch ship and were forced to live and work for white people. Africans were slaves for over two hundred years.

In the book, God Has Soul: Celebrating the Indomitable Spirit of African Americans, I have read and re-read the words of Booker T. Washington who became a powerful political leader and great educator: "As fireworks light up the sky in celebration of our country's independence this Fourth of July 1881, I feel my own sense of independence and freedom. It is a reflective day for me, as I think back to the days of my childhood."

Washington never forgot that his mother's prayers sometimes awakened him at night as she knelt by his pallet praying for their freedom. He was nine years old when that day of liberation finally came because President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan.1, 1863.

Many other tragedies have dotted the history of America since the first Independence Day in 1791. Some church congregations were split in anger and divided because of slavery. In 1861 the Civil War threatened to devour our beloved land. In the early 1900s the Women's Suffrage Movement was a horrible blight on our nation. 

However, one of the greatest tragedies to come to American soil was September 11, 2001. The day began bright and beautiful. But telephone calls, computers and television sets soon spread the word that our country had been attacked. Nothing went as planned that day. Our family sat frozen in horror before our television set as we watched destruction like we had never seen in our beloved land.

Throughout the days we saw and heard people drawn together by a common goal of suffering. Praying and singing were beautiful expressions of unity. One of those songs was a prayer, "God Bless America," which is a plea for God to bless and care for and heal America.

The interesting fact about this song is that it was written to be included in a Broadway play in New York City in 1918. It was composed by Irving Berlin who was annoyed that his song was not chosen as a part of the stage production. But he filed it away and said, there may be some other time when that song will be needed.

Sure enough, twenty years later, he retrieved that old song. He rearranged the lyrics, wrote this beautiful melody and God Bless America was born in 1938. It is truly a "golden oldie."

Irving Berlin was a gift to America. He was born in 1888 in Russia and his family came to this country in the early 1900s. He became an American citizen and wrote hundreds of unforgettable songs. Evidence of his devotion for his adopted homeland can be found in this song of prayer. Millions of Americans continue to sing about the land that I love.

The popular vocalist of that day, Kate Smith, introduced it to America on Nov.11, 1938 as her dynamic voice carried it with great enthusiasm. The rest of the story is well known to the people who saw her on stage or heard her on radio. She never ended a performance without singing her trademark song, God Bless America.

Let us always be aware of the growing pains of America as we give thanks for the happy times of triumph. We can also rejoice in God's promises in the Bible. One in particular is Psalm 33:12: "Blessed be the nation whose God is the Lord."
Lucy Neeley Adams