Vanessa Williams and PBS faced backlash after Fourth of July Black national anthem performance

Social media lit up with complaints about Williams' singing "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" before she even performed.

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Before even taking the stage, actress and singer Vanessa Williams garnered backlash for performing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” at the PBS A Capitol Fourth event in Washington D.C. 

Williams hosted the affair and performed the song known as the Black national anthem, but conservatives and Americans unfamiliar with the 100-year-old poem-turned-hymn balked at its singing. 

Writer Greg Kelly complained on Twitter: “THIS IS BAD. Different Races will have their own holidays? Their own Anthems? The new SEGREGATION.  Vanessa Williams to sing ‘Black national anthem’ for Capitol Fourth celebration.” Another decried, “There’s only one National Anthem that covers everyone. It doesn’t matter what color you are.” 

Vanessa Williams hosts “A Capitol Fourth,” live from Washington, D.C., which aired Sunday, July 4, on PBS. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)

““Vanessa honey,” Black conservative personality and congressional candidate Lavern Spicer wrote, “a BLACK national anthem is something a Black African Country would have, not a country like America that exists for everyone.” 

Meanwhile, African Americans and other allies made Kelly and many other conservatives aware that “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” has been around for over 100 years. The song was first sung at a birthday celebration for Abraham Lincoln.

In the midst of conservative criticism of critical race theory, Black Twitter could hardly believe that citizens fighting to have actual U.S. history lessons removed from its classrooms were unfamiliar with a song that has been considered valuable to Black Americans for over a century. 

One Twitter user wondered, “The Black National Anthem is really trending because some people think Vanessa Williams or ‘Democrats’ made it up this year?”

Another replied: “I mean you can’t really blame them since they don’t really believe in understanding other cultures thoughts, feelings or struggles.” 

Still another Twitter user shared a photo from the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, writing, “Actual photos of the people pissed about the Black national anthem. Karen would like to speak to Vanessa Williams manager.”

Williams — who, in 1984, was crowned the nation’s first Black Miss America — did indeed perform the hymn, and prior to its singing, said she was “filled with the spirit of freedom and the perseverance that is required to achieve that most precious right.”

“I dedicate this to our ancestors, to our new federal holiday Juneteenth,” she said, “and to all who celebrate freedom.”

A Capitol Fourth has been a staple of PBS programming for more than 40 years. This year, it was hosted by Williams and Kermit the Frog. 

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