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Jaguars honor James Weldon Johnson’s legacy on his birthday with song, donation

Jaguars receiver Marvin Jones Jr. sings his rendition of 'Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing' during a session at the Ritz Theater.
Jaguars receiver Marvin Jones Jr. sings his rendition of 'Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing' during a session at the Ritz Theater. (Jaguars)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On the birthday of James Weldon Johnson, the Jaguars wanted to do something special.

And they did it in a powerful way, with help from one of the newest members of their team.

The team continued its commitment to the city’s Historic Eastside and recognized the significance of Johnson with a $250,000 donation in support of the Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park in Jacksonville’s LaVilla neighborhood.

That park honors local brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson, who penned the iconic song ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.’ It is widely recognized as the Black National Anthem.

The city broke ground on that park last February and it will cost between $2 and $3 million when it’s finished. It will be recognized as a historic landmark in the LaVilla neighborhood.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan and the Jaguars Foundation made a $1 million pledge to Jacksonville’s Eastside last May.

“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing was first performed in 1905 by students at the Stanton School, where Mr. Johnson was principal, as part of a tribute to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I think it is only fitting that on his birthday, we honor our native son, James Weldon Johnson, with a permanent reminder of his many contributions to Black culture and American culture at large,” said T-Neisha Tate, Jaguars vice president of social responsibility and impact.

“We’re grateful to have the platform and opportunity to bring awareness to how much rich history exists mere miles from our stadium home and can’t wait to see how the City of Jacksonville continues to embrace its history.”

Outside of honoring the Johnson brothers and their contributions to the area with the donation, the team unveiled a powerful rendition of their song by Jaguars receiver Marvin Jones Jr.

Jones, who signed with the team as a free agent and auditioned for American Idol in 2017, sang it on the stage at the historic Ritz Theater.

“It’s always amazing when you can go and see your culture and see where things started and see where things have developed,” Jones said. “I know growing up in the church, we sang this song as well. It just brings back memories. It’s very heartfelt and very powerful. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to sing it.”


About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.