Abundant Life Black History Month Highlights: ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ Lane High School Black History Week
Feb 24, 2023|Written By: Faith Kelley
This week we are highlighting educator, Esther Vassar of Lane High School who stood in the gap for her students at a time of racial discrepancy.
Lane High School, Preceeding Charlottesville High School, was a segregated High School in Charlottesville up until 1959, following a three-year battle in federal court to avoid integration of schools in Virginia.
Though schools were integrated for years prior, the year 1972 didn’t seem to display any change. Black students still faced opposition from their classmates, and this turmoil all came to a head one day in March, during a Black History Week program.
English Teacher Esther Vassar was asked by the Lane High School Principal to hold a tranquil observatory ceremony for Black History Week. At this assembly, the young and newly instated teacher played the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The song is widely known as the national black anthem, and as the song played, Vassar noticed that rows of white students began leaving the auditorium. Following this walk-out, Vassar received hate mail in her mailbox.
Students who were appreciative of Esther Vassar urged Vassar to attend school board meetings following the disruption at the assembly. When Vassar attended the School Board Meeting, she was surprised at the claims that she forced students to pledge allegiance to the ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’ Reverend Henry Mitchell, the school board’s then-only back member, read aloud the lyrics to the song, and stated “What is offensive about that?” “Not another word was spoken and the assembly was dismissed,” Vassar Recalled.
We are thankful for the boldness of African American educators like Esther Vassar, a mentor to many black students at Lane High School who were often treated as second-class citizens among their classmates.