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HomeIllinois NewsRhoads: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" - the Black National Anthem

Rhoads: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – the Black National Anthem



By Mark Rhoads –James-weldon-johnson-magazine-article_555

In 1900, poet and composer James Weldon Johnson wrote a beautiful and inspirational spiritual called Lift Every Voice and Sing. After 1916, Mr. Johnson became Secretary of the NAACP and his song was widely sung and celebrated by the name of "The Negro National Anthem" or in more recent years sometimes called the "Black" or the "African-American National Anthem."

It is often sung today at events of the NAACP or Black History Month events in February. One can only imagine the fate of a Caucasian-American who showed up at such an event and kneeled down to protest the singing of that sacred song.I wonder if Mr. Johnson were alive today what he might think of African-American athletes who kneel down during the Star Spangled Banner. From reading about his life, I suspect he would not approve because he wrote his song to show respect not only for his fellow blacks but for all people.

Many thousands of African-Americans have served our country with great honor in the armed forces and disrespecting their flag and the Star Spangled Banner is offensive to many and not just to white people. Kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner is an example of protected free speech but it is also a very foolish form of protest because it can be interpreted so broadly that no one can ever be certain about exactly what policy is being objected to.

Disrespect for the Star Spangled Banner is not a new idea. When African-American Olympic runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave a black power fist salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, they got five minutes of international fame but their gesture had no positive effect on the cause of civil rights in America almost a half-century ago.

If an African-American athlete wants to protest some injustice, there are many positive ways to use their celebrity status to lift up the lives of young black people that do not disrespect other blacks who have served our nation in military service.


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  1. Can a RAP singer do a version of it? Complete with stupid hand gestures, sideways hat, and weird facial expressions?
    After all, the liberals think the Constitution needs to be brought up-to-date, so why not this song, too?
    Because: apparently THIS is what this country is becoming.

  2. Athletes kneeling during the anthem at a professional sporting event is not a matter of free speech!! The First Amendment is only violated if a governmental actor attempts to censor speech (with some limited exceptions). The private companies these athletes work for are free to regulate their workplace as they see fit and tell their employees, under pain of dismissal, that they are not entitled to kneel during the anthem. There is no Constitutional issue involved.
    So these athletes are simply either disobeying direct orders from their employers OR their employers are not demanding simple respect for the flag….and Trump gets this when he asked for a boycott and that the “SOB” be fired for kneeling. Those are the only solutions, not discussions of the 1st Amendment. Like many Americans, if I see kneeling before the game, I turn the TV OFF.