Better known as “The Harp”, the nearly two-story tall sculpture graced the important Visual Arts Pavilion and has been reported as the most popular artwork at the fair. Hundreds of miniature bronze reproductions were sold along with thousands of postcards. 45 million people attended the fair. **

And yet at the end of the World’s Fair, Savage and her associates did not have the money to transport the plaster monument and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was bulldozed along with the rest of the Fair’s buildings and artwork. The loss is an American cultural tragedy.

Savage was inspired by the poem and song written by the Johnson brothers. In 1900, James Weldon wrote the poem for recitation by students to Booker T. Washington who was a guest speaker at LaVilla’s Edwin M. Stanton School. Composed by John Rosamond, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” rose in popularity and declared the Black National Anthem by the NAACP in 1919. The song moved forward as an important sing-along during civil rights marches and events. Famed poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou would later write that her eighth grade class sang the song during the early 1940s to protest decisions by white school officials.

In 2018-19, the Cummer Museum honored and re-introduced Savage through its exhibition “Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman”. The exhibition shares the life of Savage and sets her work among paintings by her students and friends in Harlem in the 1930s.

Augusta Savage (Wikipedia)

Born on February 29, 1892, Augusta Christine Fells was the seventh of fourteen children raised on a farm in Green Cove Springs. As a child, she was disciplined by her father for creating “graven” images out of clay. In 1915, the family moved to West Palm Beach where she married James Savage. After briefly attending Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Savage moved to Jacksonville in 1920. Here, she hoped to go into business sculpting busts of prominent African-Americans. She met and became friends with James Weldon Johnson while residing in Jacksonville.

After this enterprise failed, with only $4.60 in savings, she moved to New York City in 1921 where she eventually became a significant part of the Harlem Renaissance. Stop there for a moment. An African American farm girl from the rural south finds her way to become a student at the Cooper Union School in New York and then to manage an important visual arts teaching studio during the Harlem Renaissance. Amazing.

As the museum has revived our memory of her and her art, Jacksonville can now understand the serious cultural value of the demolished sculpture. The sculpture is a soft style of 1930s Art Deco art that can be found at courthouses, post offices and other government buildings structures and or private projects like Rockefeller Center. Those sculptures stylized proud human forms.

In the shape of a harp, Savage sculpts a linear gospel choir dressed in column-like robes. A giant forearm with an open hand cradles the choir in the way a parent holds a newborn. She then uses her immense skills to craft the expressive faces of singing men and women painted in black.

At the front, a powerfully built shirtless man kneels and holds the foot pedal for an organ. Again with her skills in human form. Of course this is no regular man, but the working man that provides so much power and stability for the choir behind. Or perhaps, the choir provides the hope that lets the workingman keep going against all the odds. Like all great art, both are true.

Really, it must exist again. Like so many things…just needs some leadership.

LaVilla’s Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park

Guest Editorial by Glenn Weiss. Artist and curator moved to Jacksonville’s Trout River Blvd in October 2018 from Palm Beach County. Weiss managed the Public Art Program for Times Square in New York City, served a public art master planner for many Florida cities and counties and taught architecture and planning at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Washington in Seattle.


  • Jacksonville has taken important steps to recognize the legacy of the Johnson brothers with the 2015 dedication of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” Park in La Villa. Unfortunately after 3 years, the 1.35 acre park is only grass with the historic markers about the Johnson Brothers and the song. No funding has emerged and as an embarrassment to the City, the City has failed to take the basic steps to list the park on Parks webpage, rezone the land as a park to permanently protect it and give it a street address. The property appraiser lists the land as “0 Lee Street”.

The park is located two blocks north of the Conventions Center in La Villa and surrounded by North Lee, North Johnson, West Adams and West Houston. Clearly the park should have a “North Johnson Street” address and perhaps the ten block long Lee Street could be renamed “Augusta Savage”.

** The miniature version can be seen at the Cummer Museum. The miniature is a truly horrible reproduction and should be ignored.

*** The Visual Arts pavilion still stands today as culturally significant “Queens Museum” in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Links City of Jacksonville produced video about the Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park and the Johnson brothers.

Recording of Lift Every Voice and Sing by The Wardlaw Brothers Tribute as video tribute to Black History

Film of the Augusta Savage sculpture at the 1939 New York World’s Fair:

Good summary of Savage’s life by Jacksonville student Bailie Staton

Good summary of Savage’s life after the World’s Fair

Film of Augusta Savage working in her studio in the 1930s