House Majority Whip James Clyburn plans to introduce a measure to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song long revered in the black community, the national hymn.
“To make it a national hymn, I think would be an act of bringing the country together. It would say to people, ‘You aren’t singing a separate national anthem, you are singing the country’s national hymn,'” Clyburn said.
“The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” has been sung in black communities for decades and is an important part of African-American culture and history.
James Weldon Johnson, a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader, wrote it as a poem in 1899. His brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later put it to music.
Eventually, the NAACP adopted it as the organization’s official song.
“We should have one national anthem, irrespective of whether you’re black or white,” Clyburn told USA Today.
“So to give due honor and respect to the song, we ought to name it the national hymn.”
Archivist Howard Robinson said that the song was written during a time when black Americans were being lynched and Jim Crow laws were enforced.
“This song speaks to the people who suffered through the chastening rod,” Robinson said.
“I think that the song is a different look at America, is a more critical look at America while at the same time being optimistic about our present and future.”
Clyburn said that he has been considering the measure for decades.
“Ever since I’ve been in the Congress, I’ve been trying to come up with enough nerve to introduce a national hymn. I hope I can survive and see it passed,” he told journalists last month, according to USA Today.
However, some experts and historians are worried that the legislative push is purely symbolic and would not do anything to address legitimate problems communities of color face.
“It’s symbolically notable for black people, but in the larger scheme of things, this isn’t going to put food on people’s table, it’s not going to increase people’s pay,” Howard University political scientist Michael Fauntroy said.
He added that some people can substitute symbolic victories for structural change.
“I don’t want that to happen here,” Fauntroy said.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that there have been six bills introduced in Congress since 1973 to designate songs as a national hymn, however, none have yet been passed into law, according to the U.S. Senate Historical Office.
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