House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has introduced a measure to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the “Black national anthem,” the official U.S. hymn in an effort to promote unity.
The song, which celebrates resilience, was first written as a poem in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson, former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was later set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson.
In 1920, Johnson was honored by his colleagues who declared “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” as the “the Negro national anthem,” per the Library of Congress.
“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. “The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”
“The Star-Spangled Banner” has been widely criticized in recent years because it contains lyrics that glorify slavery.
Clyburn is the House Democratic Whip and the highest-ranking Black lawmaker in Congress. He said he’s considered this effort for years, but decided to revisit it amid intense divisions in the U.S. and the rise of a modern civil rights movement.
The hymn has been performed by celebrities like Beyoncé, as well as during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. Most recently, it was sung by Black Lives Matter activists amid protests over racism and police brutality.