Clyburn explains push to make ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ national hymn

'My goal is to make a contribution to trying to bring this country back together,' the South Carolina representative remarked.

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During a new interview, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) revealed his hope to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the official U.S. national hymn.

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“My goal is to make a contribution to trying to bring this country back together,” he remarked according to CNN during a conversation with host and journalist Don Lemon during the Silence Is Not an Option podcast. “I just think that if we were to make this hymn our national hymn, it will help us to really create a climate within which we can find common ground.”

The song, recognized as the Black National Anthem, was written as a poem by  James Weldon Johnson and set to music composed by John Rosamond Johnson. According to the NAACP, the song was first performed in Jacksonville, Fl. during former President Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900.

Today, the powerful lyrics are often sung at the beginning of sports events, especially where Black athletes are contenders and regional celebrations of Black culture including Juneteenth and Black History Month celebrations.

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House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, speaks during a hearing on September 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Powell yesterday said the U.S. economy has a long way to go before fully recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and will need further support. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Clyburn shared his belief that although the song was written specifically for the plight of Black Americans, others can relate to the message. With this idea, he hopes to introduce a bill to recognize “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the country’s National Hymn. According to the Democratic politician, the move would help unite the country through racial and political divisions.

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“If you really look at the words, read them, and think about the experiences that the Irish have had, when they came to this country and what they were running away from. Same thing with Italian Americans. That song can apply to them just as much as it applies to Black Americans,” he said according to CNN.

He also shared his opinion on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key and adopted as the official United State’s national anthem by a congressional resolution signed by former President Herbert Hoover in 1931. The song has drawn critique for references to slavery and racist language.

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CBS Sacramento reported in 2017, a California chapter of the NAACP pushed to have the song removed as the national anthem and issued support of Colin Kaepernick who inspired his own controversy when taking a knee in peaceful protest when the song was played during the beginning of NFL games.

“This song is wrong; it shouldn’t have been there, we didn’t have it ’til 1931, so it won’t kill us if it goes away,” Alice Huffman said, the organization’s president at the time. “It’s racist; it doesn’t represent our community, it’s anti-black,” she said.

“I don’t reject the national anthem. I just think that Francis Scott Key just didn’t have as much respect for my forebears as he should have had when he was writing the words to that song,” said Rep. Clyburn to Lemon. “Whether we like it or not, that is our national anthem, and that national anthem that we love so much talked about preserving slavery and keeping people in servitude. We can’t change what Francis Scott Key did. What we can do is work to overcome it, and this would be one small gesture toward making our motto real: e pluribus unum.”

The full podcast conversation can be listened to below.

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