The quarrel over athletes protesting during the national anthem — or skipping it entirely — has been largely relegated to professional football… but a similar controversy is now heating up within the NBA.
As part of “Black History Month” during the past month of February, a handful of basketball teams decided to play an anthem, but it wasn’t the familiar “Star Spangled Banner.”
Instead, they broadcast what has been called the “negro national anthem” by African-American groups like the NAACP.
That anthem, titled “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” has a long history as a rally song for black Americans after the Civil War. It was originally written to honor the president who emancipated the slaves, but took on larger meaning among the African-American community.
“James Weldon Johnson, an author, civil rights activist and educator, wrote the lyrics to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’” explained The Associated Press.
“His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, an accomplished musician, wrote the music for the Stanton School celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. A chorus of 500 black children sang the tune,” the AP continued.
That news outlet reported that at least four NBA teams played the “negro national anthem” instead of the “Star Spangled Banner” during the last month. However, not everybody was thrilled with the decision.
“It is troublesome to say we need a black national anthem in 2018,” declared Timothy Askew, a professor at Clark Atlanta University who is himself black.
“We need to be moving toward racial cohesiveness, diversity, universal understanding and universal respect,” he told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Professor Askew is recognized as an expert on the history of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” but interestingly, he believes that using it as a “black national anthem” is inappropriate and pushes divisiveness instead of togetherness.
“Personally, I think that it does promote racial separatism to call any cultural symbol a national anthem when we have a national anthem,” he explained.
“I’m a black person, and I love black culture, but I believe that we are one America and that we should think of ourselves as Americans,” the professor continued. “Calling this song an African-American song of identity is one thing, but saying it’s a black national anthem is another thing that creates problems that can be perceived as separatist or racist.”
“Lift Every Voice” was written at a time of unprecedented strife for blacks, when the Civil War was still a few decades fresh and the struggle for civil rights faced an uphill climb.
“But when will America get better?” asked Professor Askew. “It’s only going to get better when we ascribe to something greater than our limitations.”
“Saying something is a black national anthem will create divisiveness that is unnecessary when we should all be striving for something greater,” he pointed out.
The good professor is right. Well over a century after the song was written, it may be time for all races in America to leave the conflict and disunity of the past behind.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — in fact, it’s a moving piece that was forged by its time and place in history. Yet we have a national anthem, and it’s one that every American can celebrate as a symbol of solidarity in a country full of great opportunity.
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