Hymn Would Join Anthem as National Song Under Bill in Congress

February 4, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
<strong>Hymn Would Join Anthem as National Song Under Bill in Congress</strong>
(Sheet music for "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Photo by Beth Felice via Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — The national anthem would get a companion song in America’s repertoire of music under a proposal discussed during a congressional hearing Friday.

Lift Every Voice and Sing” would be elevated to the status of a national hymn under H.R. 301.

It is a hymn of thanksgiving for faithfulness and freedom that evokes the biblical exodus from slavery to freedom.

Since it was sung by 500 Florida schoolchildren for the first time in 1900 on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it became emblematic of the African American civil rights movement.

The question discussed at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Friday was whether it should win government recognition as an official song of the United States.

It would not replace the national anthem; just play second fiddle to it.

A hymn is a religious song of praise. An anthem can show devotion to a nation or political cause.

“Its purpose is to bring this country together,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was composed by writer and activist James Weldon Johnson and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, who wrote the music and lyrics.

In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People declared it “the Negro national anthem.”

Since then, it has been republished in at least 39 Christian hymnals. In recent years, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang it and musicians at National Football League games have played it.

Cohen said “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has moved from a song associated with African Americans to an overture for freedom that appeals to all Americans.

H.R. 301 was introduced by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who also is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He said the song’s call for freedom applies to all ethnic groups.

No Republicans on the subcommittee expressed opposition to the bill, only mild concern that it might replace the national anthem.

Clyburn denied any effort to replace the anthem when he said, “We believe that out of many backgrounds and experiences, there should be one national anthem.”

He also predicted victory for his bill. “I think the votes are in the House to pass it,” he said.

Dwandalyn R. Reece, a curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, told the lawmakers, “‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is the perfect mix of poetry and music.”

She added, “The text can focus only on religious themes or universal themes.”

The first stanza of the song says:

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening 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

Tom can be reached at [email protected]

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  • "Lift Every Voice and Sing"
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  • National Anthem
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