America Could Get a Faith-Centric 'National Hymn' Under Proposal by Rep. James Clyburn

Michael Foust | Contributor | Tuesday, January 19, 2021
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America Could Get a Faith-Centric 'National Hymn' Under Proposal by Rep. James Clyburn

A popular hymn within Black communities could become the national hymn and sung alongside the national anthem under a proposal by the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told USA Today he will introduce a measure to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – often called the “Black national anthem” – the “national hymn” of the United States.

The hymn was written as a poem by former NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899, according to the NAACP website. It was first performed in public on Lincoln’s Birthday on Feb. 12, 1900.

“To make it a national hymn, I think, would be an act of bringing the country together. It would say to people, ‘You aren’t singing a separate national anthem, you are singing the country’s national hymn,’” Clyburn told USA Today. “The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”

Lift Every Voice and Sing” is arguably more Christian-centric than the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The third stanza reads: “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.”

It is sung in black communities at schools, graduations and church services, USA Today reported. Clyburn says it’s time for other communities to sing it, too.

The first stanza – which was sung by Alicia Keys to a national television audience at the beginning of the NFL season – also references the Christian faith. The first stanza reads: “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.”

Said Clyburn, “It’s a very popular song that is steeped in the history of the country.”

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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.