Black National Anthem? Most people do not know and have never learned of the Black National Anthem, formerly known as the Negro National Anthem. For some, this will be a history lesson long over-due. While for others, it will be and enlightening moment to be truthful with yourself.
The Black National Anthem was originally a poem written by the author James Weldon Johnson and entitled, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in the late 1800s. It was performed at a celebration for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in February 1900 by 500 school children and set to music by James’ brother a few years later. In a post-slavery America, where blacks still weren’t treated equally nor justly, due to Jim Crow laws; Lift Every Voice and Sing, became a song that could be heard amongst black groups large and small. From schools and churches to simple celebrations, the Black National Anthem resounded in our hearts. It not only spoke of our pains and travails, but also of our faith and hope in a better America for future Blacks.
Though the song was written by and for blacks, it speaks a message to all Americans. The song crossed generations and eventually was adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as its official song. Today, few people know or have even heard of this song that strenthened Blacks during a time where we werent even considered Americans.
The sadness is, our country was and still is so divided, that it needs two different songs to represent its people; yet in contrast we are the United States of America.
There are two definitions of the word anthem;
1.a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause
2. a choral composition based on a biblical passage, for singing by a choir in church service.
Taking into account the definition of the term, anthems are usually used to unify people, not cause dissention amongst them. If we examine the words of the current national anthem, its obvious that this poem/song was written for a particular time in America’s history; where slavery was glorified and death by means of war was celebrated. Those times have presumably changed. Many blacks have fought and died in the name of this country and its freedoms; freedoms, they never really experienced, only wished to.
Furthermore, the main differentiating factor is that one song highlights war and victory as well as the demise of those (slaves and hired servants) that chose to fight for the other side (the British) in an effort to gain freedom, while the other uplifts spirits during trying times and gives hope for a brighter more peaceful future. It should be obvious which song seems to fit the definition and is more of an ‘anthem’.
Furthermore, the current song represents a point in history that we selectively remember for its victorious and glorious battles, while often times circumnavigating around the slavery and hard life endured by former slaves. “The Star Spangled Banner” does not speak to a riddled past, or ring hope in the ears of all of its listeners, but brings remembrances to tragedies, slavery and war; ideals that do not represent the America we proclaim we are today.
The National Anthem started as a song which was sang during military and naval ceremonies, and quite frankly should be kept as such; seeing as though it was deemed our anthem in 1931, only 85 years ago. Those that were outraged at Colin Kaepernick and Gabby Douglas for failing to show their patriotism to the song and thus the flag because of it’s signigicance to military veterans, were justified in their point of view. However, the freedoms of this very country are what afford Kaepernick and Douglas the right to do so, not a song or flag. Why should any of us honor a song that not only excludes a significant portion of its population but causes problems amongst the people?
Many Black atheletes have joined Colin in his refusal to stand, thus creating an uproar amongst fans as well as military both veterans and active-duty. With the divisiveness the song creates, is it now time to re-think our naitonal anthem?
YES!!! As a country that is full of diversity, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ speaks to the difficulty faced by many of its immigrant citizens and American-born citizens, speaking to a hope for a brighter future. An anthem should reflect a general idea of the people of America, instead of one particular group. With past and present advancements, as well as people of color finally being treated somewhat equally, its definitely time to reconsider the words for the song in which we stand for and salute.
That being said, with the various groups of people and cultures that live amongst and interacts with one another daily, there should be an anthem that represents this country, its beliefs, and our ability to unite, aside from facing tragedy. Lift Every Voice and Sing does just that. Whether you are a natural born American or an immigrant American; we are all in this country and have to accept the fact that we have to find a way to work together.
The Black National Anthem, speaks to the resiliance to those that built this country as well as the strength of America. We have seen our power in time of struggle, we know we bend and do not break; The same sentiment resonnates for every group represented in this country (taking into consideration that most immigrants come here to escape terrible situations in their own country and to make a better life for themselves). Which is exactly why ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ should replace the current U.S. National Anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’
What are your thoughts? Read the lyrics to each song and tell me which one you think best represents the country we are today and speaks to where we look to be in the future.