By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Republicans Upset Over Black National Anthem Sung at Game
This past weekend, an estimated 113 million people watched portions or all of Super Bowl LVII. A new chapter in American history was written as two Black quarterbacks shepherded the game. But it was a 123-year-old song that had many observers talking.
Tony and Emmy award winner Sheryl Lee Ralph performed Lift Every Voice and Sing. Written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900, the performance didn’t strike me as any big deal, at first. Frequently referred to as the Black National Anthem, Johnson’s brother John set the words to music. The song was first performed by school children to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in the year 1900.
Anyone that knows even the slightest bit about history will know that a famous sculpture, known as “The Harp” was commissioned in 1939 by the World’s Fair. It is based on Lift Every Voice and Sing. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was a part of the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1972, during the infamous Wattstax Concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Rev. Jesse Jackson proudly proclaimed “I Am Somebody”, Lift Every Voice and Sing followed. In 2001, during the first inauguration of President G. W. Bush, Lift Every Voice and Sing was sung. So, when it was included in the Superbowl, I didn’t think much about it.
The game was being played during Black History Month. Fifty-eight percent of the National Football League (NFL) is comprised of Black players. And yeah, the NFL has a diversity, equity, and black folks problem.
Since shunning Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, for his outward commitment to raise awareness of questionable law-enforcement related deaths of Black people, the NFL has had a series of fumbles or forced errors. Last year’s half-time show, a partnership with Jay-Z, and Rhi Rhi this year, have all felt like an attempt to extend an olive branch. Not a ton of substantive change and Kap still hasn’t snapped a ball, but there’ve been overtures to acknowledge the racially-infused grumblings.
You know, allegations of racial bias in concussion payouts, sham head coaching job interviews, minimal front office representation, have dogged the league. And then there was the former, pot-stirring U.S. President who doused words like “SOB’s” on open wounds. Black players were villainized for speaking up about social injustice. So again, not surprised that Lift Every Voice and Sing was sung.
Well evidently, the song’s inclusion threw many conservatives for a loop. Cries of division rang out. We are one America they shouted. How dare we sing anything other than the “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Written by slaveholder Francis Scott Key, the song was written in 1814. It didn’t become the country’s National Anthem until 1931, some 31 years after Lift Every Voice and Sing was written.
As a reminder or point of information for those who don’t remember, ever learned or understand history, the Star-Spangled Banner’s third stanza, No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, is actually about protecting the institution of slavery. We must fight to preserve Black History, in all its glory and discomfort. I’d rather be woke than be dumb. I’d rather know all of our history than willfully be ignorant of the facts.