The National Football League reportedly plans to start Week One games by playing two separate anthems.
Preceding kickoff, first will come the song known traditionally as the unofficial Black national anthem, the 120-year-old spiritual “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” That performance will be followed by our nation’s bona fide national anthem, our beloved “Star-Spangled Banner,” (or so say multiple news stories citing anonymous sources.)
My first instinct upon hearing this news was to dismiss it as political correctness.
SAINTS' DEMARIO DAVID WELCOMES NFL'S REPORTED PLAN TO PLAY BLACK NATIONAL ANTHEM
After all, we are all part of one American people with one national anthem that represents all of us. That’s certainly the ideal for which we should strive even if it is not always the apparent reality.
So why should we start games with two variants of celebratory American songs?
Why should we divide ourselves in this manner?
Even as I began developing my own internal talking points for expounding on my opposition to this idea, however, I kept feeling an inward tug pulling me to the notion that inclusion of this song could help bring us together as a nation.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a beautifully rich melody with lyrics that have inspired generations of Black Americans through triumph and tragedy and serves as an integral part of our cultural experience.
Some of my earliest memories involve accompanying my parents to NAACP meetings that invariably concluded with the singing of that powerful selection. We would all stand and hold the hands of our neighbors and — well, do what the song title called us to do.
This mighty song had the ability to connect the Black community to a singular experience through the struggle of civil rights. It reflects upon the story of our painful history and our struggle for justice and equality. This wonderful song then concludes with a rousing call to stay focused on our Creator and conduct our lives in faithfulness to Him.
The author of those lyrics, James Weldon Johnson, wrote it as a poem in 1900. His brother set it to music five years later.
This song, while beloved and very well known in the Black community, will never gain the universal acclaim of the U.S. national anthem.
Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner” will retain — and should — its unique status. Crowds will continue to thrill at Key’s descriptive imagery of the American flag as it continued to wave atop Fort McHenry during steady bombardment by the British during the War of 1812.
But the opportunity for all of America to experience the depth of emotion that rolls from this old spiritual has a distinct value of its own. Meanwhile, no one to my knowledge is suggesting that the NFL will make permanent the playing of the song at football games. It is simply a plan for the coming season’s first week of games. A gesture toward understanding. Why argue with that?
Given all that has transpired this year, the NFL’s perspective gesture seems fitting.
Our nation seems on the verge of a new awakening to the need for a new and profound commitment to racial justice and equality under the law.
Radicals, of course, are endeavoring to hijack this movement for their own far-flung purposes, with penchants for such so-called solutions as “defunding the police.” In light of this reality, we all should be able to support the much more noble aims of our civil rights heroes — aims rooted in Judeo-Christian values such as those expressed in “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
“The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said. “They give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.”
It seems we are all wired these days to complain loudly about any initiative proposed by the “other” ideological side. But put me down as one conservative who could not only tolerate but indeed could appreciate renditions of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during the first week of NFL games this fall.
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But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: "Why, this is what we were fed with before," for they are given things in similitude; and they have therein spouses purified; and they abide therein (for ever). (The Cow 25)