The Black national anthem was born more than a century ago, but the popular anthem in the African-American community, called “Lift Every Voice and Sing,”

; has raised a beacon of hope during protests in recent weeks. (July 3)

AP Internal

WASHINGTON – US envoy James Cliburn, DS, wants a song about faith and resilience long revered in the black community to become a national anthem and help unite the country after centuries of racial turmoil.

Claiborne, the whip of the majority in parliament, plans to introduce a measure this week to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, known as the Black National Anthem, a national anthem and give it a special place along with the country’s anthem, Starred. banner. “

“To make it a national anthem, I think, would be an act of unification of the country. That would tell people, “You’re not singing a separate national anthem, you’re singing the national anthem,” said Cliburn, the highest-ranking black American in Congress. “The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everyone can identify with this song. “

The song is an important part of African American culture and history. For decades, he sang in black communities of school plays, award programs, diplomas, and church services. Cliburn said it was time to sing it in other communities as well.

The boost comes during social unrest, especially protests over the police killings of unarmed black men and women and the devastating impact of the new coronavirus on color communities.

It is also a deadly attack by supporters of President Donald Trump on the US Capitol on Wednesday, which sent lawmakers to fight to guard the seats and the police to protect them. Five people were killed, including a Capitol police officer.

Some experts and historians say the legislative push is more about symbolism and will not do much to address systemic issues affecting color communities.

“It’s symbolically remarkable for blacks, but on a larger scale, it won’t put food on people’s tables, it won’t increase people’s pay,” said Michael K. Fantroy, a political scientist at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Fauntroy said he worries that some people, especially African Americans, may sometimes overestimate the significance of symbolic victories and replace it with more structural change. “I don’t want that to happen here,” he said.

Cliburn said the effort was much more than symbolic, saying he sought to add weight to it as a national anthem. “This is a very popular song that is immersed in the country’s history,” he said.

More ▼: How Civil Rights Leader James Cliburn Helped Joe Biden and Black America Win the White House

The song comes out of the story of pain

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, leader of the NAACP, in 1899, and was later set to music by his brother John Rosemond Johnson. It was first performed publicly by school children in 1900 at a birthday party in honor of former President Abraham Lincoln, according to the NAACP.

The NAACP will later adopt it as its official song.

Cliburn noted that the early label was “the national anthem of the Negroes.”

“I’ve always been capricious about it,” he said. “We have to have a national anthem, whether you are black or white. So, in order to give due honor and respect to the song, we have to call it a national anthem. “

The song was written during another tumultuous period for African Americans, said Howard Robinson, an archivist at the State University of Alabama and a board member of the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at ASU.

Black Americans were lynched. Jim Crow’s laws were approved.

“The song doesn’t romanticize America’s past,” Robinson said, referring to lyrics as “full of faith that the dark past has taught us.”

But Robinson also noted optimism in texts such as “the hope that the present has brought us.”

“This song speaks to the people who suffered from the penalty area,” he said. “I think the song is a different view of America, a more critical view of America, while being optimistic about our present and future.”

More ▼:

“There is no better time than now”

Making the song a national anthem for all Americans is one way to acknowledge the plight of African Americans and the systemic racism they still face, experts say.

“There is no better time than now,” Robinson said, noting how Black Lives Matter protests over racial injustice and inequality resonated last summer in America and around the world.

The song was sung at some of these protests.

The NFL announced last year that they would play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the matches of week 1. Alicia Keys performed the song in a video.

Over the years, many celebrities, including Beyonce, have performed the song. The late Rev. Joseph Lowry, a civil rights icon, quoted some of his verses when he blessed the inauguration of former President Barack Obama in 2009.

Adopting it as a national anthem is an important step toward normalizing and codifying it as a central part of our history, said Nolan Williams Jr., composer, producer and cultural curator.

“It really needs to become a piece that we as a nation recognize and respect for what it means, not only to African Americans, but to Americans as well,” Williams said. “The plight of African Americans is central to American history.”

Claiburn had to build his nerves

Cliburn said he had been considering the measure for decades. Last month, he asked his staff to draft legislation. The four-page bill, received by USA TODAY, cites the story of the song and calls it a “beloved anthem.”

“Since I’ve been in Congress, I’ve been trying to find enough nerves to introduce a national anthem,” Clayburn said during a private discussion with color reporters earlier this month. “I hope I can survive and see how it goes.”

Six songs have been introduced in Congress since 1973 to designate songs, including “God Bless America” ​​and “Beautiful America” ​​as the national anthem, but none have been enacted, according to the U.S. Senate Historical Service.

The Star Banner was officially adopted as the national anthem in 1931. Anthems are often patriotic songs. Hymns are more religious and praise songs.

Williams said that while assessing what the “Starred Flag” symbolizes, he acknowledged shortcomings in the song, including verses that reflected the nation’s established racism.

“Perhaps what Clayburn is doing is pushing our country into another awkward conversation on a subject that is so difficult to deal with.”

said Williams, who composed and directed the “I have the right to vote” anthem, released last summer.

Cliburn said his measure was not meant to take away from the national anthem, which he said he sang and still remembers feeling good about playing it on his clarinet long ago.

He noted that “Lift Every Voice” is also known outside of black communities. He recalled standing years ago with former President Bill Clinton, who “knew every word of that song … He sang it better than anyone in the room.”

In a letter to colleagues, Clayburn said becoming its national anthem would recognize an important part of the American experience and the possibility of unity. Cliburn said he hoped for “broad” bilateral support in both chambers.

Robinson of Alabama State University said he would be surprised if the efforts were well received by lawmakers and most Americans. “For the whole nation to see this (song) as a way to understand our collective history … it’s a high order,” he said.


Negro spirits were among the few ways of open expression allowed to slaves.


Still, Robinson said, the nation is in a period of reflection that can generate more support.

“Some people are more receptive to looking at the past, not with pink glasses, but through a prism that sees elements of the past that are both painful and exploitative, but also (the one that has created characters and resilience,” he said.

If that happens, all Americans can soon sing along with the lyrics:

Raise every voice and sing,

While the ring of earth and sky rings

Ring with the harmonies of Freedom;

Let our joy rise

As high as the sky in the list,

Make it sound loud like a rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day began,

Let’s march until victory is won.

The rocky road we walked,

Bitter the rod of punishment,

It was felt in the days when unborn hope was dead;

And yet with a constant rhythm,

Not to have our tired legs

Come to the place our fathers sighed for?

We passed in a way that was soaked with tears,

We came on our way through the blood of the slain,

From the dark past,

“So far, we’re finally standing.”

Where the white glow of our bright star is cast.

God of our tired years,

God of our quiet tears,

You who brought us here on the road;

You who have with Your power

Bring us to light,

Keep us on the road forever, please.

That our feet may not depart from the places where we met you, O God,

Lest we forget our hearts drunk with the wine of the world;

Shaded under Your hand,

To stay forever

Faithful to our God,

Faithful to our homeland.

Follow Deborah Berry on Twitter @dberrygannett

Read or share this story: