Does America Have a Black National Anthem?
Why do some call this song the “black national anthem”?
By: Jeff Charles | December 16, 2020 | 452 Words
A piece of American history received national attention again during the opening of Michigan’s electoral vote ceremony for the 2020 election. The song “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing,” which is also known as the “Black National Anthem,” was sung by two sisters after the Star-Spangled Banner to start the event.
The song has sparked controversy, with an argument over whether the nation should have two separate national anthems for black and white Americans. Some criticized the song, believing that it was meant to replace the regular national anthem. But in reality, the piece of music is an integral part of the nation’s history and is not intended to become America’s official song.
In 1899, a man named James Weldon Johnson, who was a principal at a school in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote a poem to celebrate the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, who is known for ending slavery in the United States. He gave the poem to his brother John Rosamond Johnson, a musician, so that he could put the words to music. This is how “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was born. The song was first performed in front of 500 children at the school that Johnson managed.
The piece of music was written at one of the most important times in American history. While the country had abolished slavery, some states enacted Jim Crow laws, which were created to oppress black people and ensure that they did not live equally to white people.
Black Americans embraced the song because it spoke to their desires to be treated equally. Its lyrics were a prayer to God to bring about positive change for African Americans, and also to lead one out of difficult circumstances. It was a song that united blacks and whites in the pursuit of freedom and equality.
In 1905, Booker T. Washington, a historical black leader, endorsed the song. It became the official theme of the National Association For The Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was a group dedicated to fighting for equality. This is when the song was given the “Black National Anthem” nickname.
While the song was common in the black community, especially in churches, it was sung by white Americans as well. White churches in the South wrote to James Weldon Johnson, telling him that “we are singing that song you called the black national anthem.”
“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” remains one of the most popular historical songs in black American culture. But it is also an important part of American history. The song urges all Americans to lift every voice and sing for liberty and freedom.