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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

The "Negro National Anthem" is Sacred to Me

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on February 14, 2024

IMAGE: James Weldon Johnson wrote the "Negro National Anthem."

An Editorial Opinion


On Sunday, Grammy winner Andra Day sang the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” ahead of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.  Black Americans regard this song as the "Negro National Anthem."


Many White Americans have had the luxury of ignoring this song because they have never known the "Negro National Anthem" or realized its importance in American history.

Some weak-kneed Blacks will NOT sing the "Negro National Anthem" in the presence of Whites because they do NOT want to upset them.

So that we are clear, the "Negro National Anthem" is sacred to me! If you are offended by this song, you don't belong in my orbit." I will NEVER renounce the history of Blacks in America for anybody or any reason!


History of the "Negro National Anthem"


The “Negro National Anthem” was sung in every segregated black school across the U.S. each morning during the long, dark, and violent Jim Crow era in America.  The song was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 at the beginning of the Jim Crow Era.

The song was performed for the first time by a choir of 500 school children in Jacksonville, Florida not long after it was written. The NAACP dubbed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the "Negro National Anthem" in 1919, which is more than a decade before "The Star Spangled Banner" was adopted by Congress as the "National Anthem" in 1931.

The doctrine of "Separate but Equal," as proclaimed by the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in America from 1896 to 1964. There was a "White America" and "Black America" during this period that was sanctioned by law. The vestiges of this racial divided America are present and felt today in every aspect of American society.


I sang this song every morning in my all-Black K-12 classes until I graduated from high school in Montgomery, Alabama in May 1966.

When court-ordered desegregation occurred across the nation in the late 1960s and 1970s, most Black public schools were closed.  White administrators who ran the nation’s school systems forbade Black students from singing the "Negro National Anthem" at their newly desegregated schools.

Like so many positive aspects of black culture, the “Negro National Anthem” became a casualty of the desegregation process. The same was true for academic awards and sports trophies earned by the men/women of honor at closed black high schools.

The value of this Black history and memorabilia was completely disregarded by White Americans, particularly in the Deep South.


The Song’s Lyrics are Powerful


Here are the lyrics to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing:”


“Lift ev’ry voice and sing,

Till 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 till victory is won.


Stony the road we trod

Bitter the chastening rod

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died

Yet with a steady beat

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered

Out from the gloomy past

'Til now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast


God of our weary years

God of our silent tears

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way

Thou who has by Thy might

Led us into the light

Keep us forever in the path, we pray

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee

Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee

Shadowed beneath Thy hand

May we forever stand

True to our God

True to our native land.”


The "Negro National Anthem" helped an entire race of downtrodden Black Americans endure: (a) the suffocating oppression and sweltering heat of Jim Crow segregation laws in the Deep South, (b) the Ku Klux Klan lynchings, beatings, cross burnings, house and church bombings, and (c) the entrenched systemic racial discrimination against Blacks in every aspect of society, "from the cradle to the grave."


This song encouraged us to lift our voices and sing until freedom rang out across America. It is as sacred to Black America as the “Star Spangled Banner” is to White America.


At the beginning of sports events in my Black K-12 schools, we sang the “Star Spangled Banner” first, followed by the “Negro National Anthem."  


The "Negro National Anthem’s" Relevance Today


I realize that many White Americans dislike the idea of showing reverence and respect for the "Negro National Anthem."  MAGA politicians like Kari Lake (R-Arizona) make a public spectacle out of showing their disrespect for the Anthem. 

IMAGE: Failed Arizonia gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake refuses to stand for the "Negro National Anthem" during Super Bowl LVIII in 2023.

Today, many White Americans don’t want to be bothered with learning about or honoring anything related to Black history and culture.  They characterize this enlightenment as "wokeness," which they view as a form of "evil."

I considered their aversion to learning Black history and culture to be a form of willful ignorance.

In states like Florida and Alabama, government agencies have made it illegal to teach anything beyond a state-sanctioned sanitized version of Black history.


I think it is fitting and proper that the “Negro National Anthem” and “Star Spangled Banner” be sung at all NFL games. The NFL, which is comprised of 80% Black players, is paying its respect to both iconic cultures.


This patriotic gesture also educates White Americans on a positive aspect of Black culture, while giving Black Americans a tiny measure of the respect that has eluded them for four centuries.


Right now, most of White Americans know almost nothing about Black history, culture, and our positive contributions to American society.  As the ruling class in America for 400 years, White Americans never had a need to know this information.  


What Whites know today about Black Americans is pretty much limited to the world of sports statistics, high-profile celebrities, and rap musicians.  For the most part, Blacks are viewed by White America as modern-day minstrels who are paid to entertain and/or serve them whenever they are in a festive mood.  Less than 10,000 of America's 47.9 million Blacks fall into the "minstrels" category.


The only question I have to those who are offended by my positive editorial opinion on the "Negro National Anthem" is this:  Did your bloodline help to liberate my ancestors and me, or were they part of the group that oppressed us?

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Kamar Jones
Kamar Jones

I grew up in DODDs schools and northern states most of my childhood. I did spend one year and a half in schools in Texas and Oklahoma. I was first introduced to the Black National Anthem when I attended Alabama A&M as a 19-year-old.

My 1st year of college was in Delaware and transferring to a school in the South made more economic sense. What many Americans are NOT aware of is that the Star Spangled Banner is riddled with racist lyrics in the 3rd verse. Francis Scott Key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner, was a slave owner and an anti-abolitionist. This is precisely why this history should be taught, to help reduce the misunderstanding and hostility tow…

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