God Bless America

Published 4:32 pm Monday, November 14, 2022

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I attended the City University of New York after I graduated from Washington High School. I loved history in high school, and I loved it even more in college.  My college history professor, Dr. David Horowitz enhanced my love of history that remains to this day.

Professor Horowitz would take the class on trips through Manhattan and the Bronx and would share the history and lives of many famous people living there. On one of those trips, Professor Horowitz took the class to the lower East Side of Manhattan. He stopped in front of what was once an old tenement building and shared the story of Mr. Irving Berlin, one of America’s most beloved song writers.

He said in the early fall of 1893, Irving Berlin (born Israel Baline) was five years old when he, his parents and siblings got off a ship after a treacherous and long voyage to America. They landed at Ellis Island almost penniless after escaping the persecution, oppression and poverty of their home in a Jewish village in Siberia, part of the Russian Empire.  The family was able to find lodging in a small cramped lower East Side Manhattan apartment.

Within three years, Mr. Baline, Irving’s father passed away suddenly, leaving the family in despair.  Irving, his mother and siblings all got jobs that sometimes often earned them a few coins a day.

Irving once told some of his associates that “no matter how difficult things got, his mother would say these words as if a prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving “God Bless America” as she felt America had given her family sanctuary and a new life.

He wrote the song God Bless America with her words and sentiment in mind.

I learned the words to this beautiful song when I was in grade school, and it was also in the Hymn books in Spring Garden Baptist Church where my family had attended for many generations. I have always loved the song.  Recently I was honored to speak at the Down East Seniors Group that meets at the Blind Center. They began the program with a beautiful prayer and the singing of God Bless America. I had tears in my eyes as I thought of Irving Berlin’s humble beginnings in America, and what must have seemed like unsurmountable odds for him and his family. And, how through it all, his mother thanked God for this country.

I also thought of all the difficult things my ancestors and others have gone through in this country. I grew up during the time of segregation, and I know the difficulties of injustice, inequality and pain that it has caused me, my parents and my ancestors. But through it all, I have learned to be grateful for the many blessings this country has afforded me and my family. While this country is very far from perfect, and it’s injustice and inequality still have the same sting to it for many people groups, I can truly say as Mrs. Baline did a century ago, “God Bless America.” And I believe it’s good for America to bless and thank God for all He has done for this country. God has truly blessed America.

Here are the words to Irving Berlin’s song of thanksgiving first written in 1918 and later revised and published in 1938.

God Bless America

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,

Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.

Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,

As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God bless America, land that I love

Stand beside her and guide her,

Through the night with the light from above.

From the mountains to the prairies

To the oceans white with foam,

God bless America, my home sweet home,