House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., has advocated for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” commonly known as “the black national anthem,” to become the official hymn of the United States.
Clyburn said Tuesday that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” should become the national hymn as “an act of healing” for a divided country and for all Americans who “can identify with that song.”
“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 told USA Today.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson as a poem, whose brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set to music in 1899.
The song was first performed by a choir of 500 children on Feb. 12, 1900, in Jacksonville, Florida, as part of a celebration honoring the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln.
While closely associated with the African American struggle for civil rights, the song also has a religious message, most overtly seen in the third verse:
“God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has 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.”
In October 2001, Democratic Rep. Gene Green of Texas introduced legislation to make the patriotic song “God Bless America” the national hymn of the United States.
The proposed legislation received several co-sponsors from both major parties and was referred to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, only to die there. Green later reintroduced the legislation in 2003 with a similar result.
In July 2020, the National Football League announced that it would play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at every game played in the first week of the new season, playing before the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Critics of the NFL's decision included Rodney Coates, a professor and sociologist at Miami University in Ohio, who called it “blatant pandering to public sentiment.”
“It would be a publicity stunt. There are so many ways to show its commitment. If it were serious it would open pathways for opportunities in a number of ways. But a song? No,” Coates told NBC News last year.