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The Truth About the Black National Anthem

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Editor’s Note: The following is one of the Western Journal’s most popular patriotic-themed stories, re-posted in honor of Independence Day.

During Super Bowl LVII Feb. 13, Twitter did what Twitter does by erupting over a political controversy.

Contentious debates broke out across the social media site over the “black national anthem” which was sung ahead of this year’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Conservatives argued the very idea of a “black national anthem” is inherently racist and divisive, whereas liberals contended such a song represented “inclusion” for players who feel unrepresented by the American national anthem and its supposed “white supremacist” roots.

According to Time, the anthem was first introduced in late 2020 “as an effort to reinforce the league’s professed newfound alignment with Black Lives Matter.” Since the rise of BLM, the song has been pushed by protesters and Democrats alike quite fervently as a symbol of Civil Rights and the struggle against the legacy of slavery.

Whatever side of the debate you land on, there’s one truth about the “black national anthem” most Americans are completely unaware of.

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The song itself, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” is inherently Christian and conservative.

Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington and a Church Choir

Focus on the Family’s news arm, the Daily Citizen, provided a detailed history of the song only a few months after its NFL debut.

Written and composed by two Christian brothers, James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, in 1900, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was actually created in celebration of the 91st birthday of President Abraham Lincoln.

Should the "black national anthem" be rejected entirely?

The two Johnson brothers crafted the hymn to be “sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children” at the Stanton School, the very first public school for black Americans in Florida, according to the Citizen.

The special occasion was marked not just by Lincoln’s birthday, however. It was also sung for a prominent guest at the Stanton School, Booker T. Washington, the conservative icon and former slave who — unlike many of his fellow black leaders — believed the key to black success in America lay not in activism and government action, but rather in hard work, education and personal responsibility (read all about Washington’s history and beliefs here).

James Weldon Johnson figured the song would end there but, much to his surprise, its influence and reach began to spread.

“Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used,” James Weldon Johnson wrote, according to the Poetry Foundation.

“The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.”

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In the years that followed that first performance, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” spread throughout the African American community and, in the 1920s was officially declared the “Negro National Anthem” by the NAACP.

The more famous of the two brothers, James Weldon Johnson truly embodied the conservative ethics of hard work and personal excellence. He went on to publish many prominent literary works, became New York University’s first black professor and became the national president of the NAACP, according to the Citizen.

He also went on to write songs for the campaign of renowned Republican President Theodore Roosevelt.

“Life Every Voice and Sing” Lyrics

Despite what Time and other liberal-leaning outlets claim, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is not about political revolution or “black identity.”

Quite to the contrary.

The hymnal actually speaks to how black Americans, despite their long, troubled history, can still find their identity rooted in the God of the Bible. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” preaches the values of liberty, hope and faith.

It is certainly worth looking at the actual lyrics in full, which are as follows, per the Poetry Foundation:

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the 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 begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

 

Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chastening rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past,

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

 

God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who hast by Thy might

Led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,

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

Shadowed beneath Thy hand,

May we forever stand.

True to our God,

True to our native land.

Conservatives Divided

Citing the song’s roots, many conservatives and political right-wingers pushed back against criticism of the anthem Sunday.

“Don’t call yourself a Christian if you are mad a Gospel hymn was sung praising God on National Television on the biggest sports stage we have,” one Chrsitian-conservative wrote during the Super Bowl.

“Anyone who thinks ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ is divisive because it is nicknamed the ‘black national anthem’ doesn’t know history. Hell, they probably don’t care about the history,” libertarian political commentator Jeff Charles wrote. “Why care about history when you can just be outraged?”

Perhaps they have a point.

Don’t Take the Left’s Bait

There’s no doubt about it: The idea that black Americans can’t celebrate the national anthem because of its supposedly “racist” roots is divisive and wrong.

The song has no doubt been co-opted by leftist race hustlers with a racialized agenda to divide the country into “white” and “black” America.

But that doesn’t mean the song needs to be thrown aside entirely.

Even though the hymn was historically referred to as the “Negro National Anthem,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it was meant as a replacement for “The Star Spangled Banner.” Rather, that title was merely in reference to the song’s profound impact on black churches and the black community in general.

Conservatives should roundly reject the idea that a “black national anthem” should replace “The Star Spangled Banner” for black Americans.

That said, they should also be careful not to let leftists bait them into rejecting a treasured hymnal from black America’s history in and of itself worthy of praise.

It might go a long way to separate the twisted leftist agenda from the song itself, lest the right alienates a community that needs conservative policy as much as any other.

After all, the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” undoubtedly embody the very ideals conservatives and Christians strive for.

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Michael wrote for a number of entertainment news outlets before joining The Western Journal in 2020 as a staff reporter. He now manages the writing and reporting teams, overseeing the production of commentary, news and original reporting content.
Michael Austin graduated from Iowa State University in 2019. During his time in college, Michael volunteered as a social media influencer for both PragerU and Live Action. After graduation, he went on to work as a freelance journalist for various entertainment news sites before joining The Western Journal in 2020 as a staff reporter.

Since then, Michael has been promoted to the role of Manager of Writing and Reporting. His responsibilities now include managing and directing the production of commentary, news and original reporting content.
Birthplace
Ames, Iowa
Nationality
American
Education
Iowa State University
Topics of Expertise
Culture, Faith, Politics, Education, Entertainment




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