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Rep. Clyburn wants to make 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' a national hymn

The Democrat from South Carolina is aiming for bipartisan support on his proposal, since, he said, it's a song “everybody can identify with.”
Image: James Clyburn
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. listens to Joe Biden speak at a primary night election rally in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Matt Rourke / AP file

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., wants the song known as the Black national anthem recognized as a national hymn.

Clyburn, the third-highest Democrat in the House and its highest-ranking Black member, plans to introduce a proposal to upgrade “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to equal standing with the national anthem as early as this week to bring the country together and heal with a song “everybody can identify with,” he tweeted.

He said the change would tell Black people, “you aren’t singing a separate national anthem, you are singing the country’s national hymn,” he told USA Today.

Clyburn also said he’s wanted to spearhead this initiative for decades and asked his team to start the paperwork last month. The current political climate — initially the summer’s shootings and protests, and especially after the riots at the Capitol last week — prompted him to revisit the proposal, he said.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing” emerged as Black Americans faced the threat of lynchings, and the realities of segregation and discrimination. NAACP leader Weldon Johnson wrote it as a poem in 1899 before his brother John Rosamond Johnson wrote an instrumental arrangement for it, making it a song in recognition of the Black freedom struggle, to celebrate decades of overcoming and to hope for a better future.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,

‘Til earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the list’ning skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on ’til victory is won.

Clyburn says making it a national hymn could bring the country together without taking away from “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“The Star-Spangled Banner” has received criticism from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other activists regarding how its often-omitted third stanza glorifies slavery. This season, the NFL played both “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Week 1 games.

In a letter to colleagues, Clyburn said that the song is an important part of the American experience and that he hopes for "extensive" bipartisan support for his proposal in both chambers, according to USA Today.

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