“How come we overcame and nobody told me?”
Those memorable words from Florence the maid during the first episode of the 70’s sitcom, “The Jeffersons,” spoke to a milestone concerning Blacks on network television. Up to that point, Black people had mostly been given subservient roles. She was referring to being a Black maid in an upscale apartment complex while talking with two Black women who lived there. At the time the episode premiered on January 18th, 1975, some Blacks still faced many challenges. However, for most, the civil rights battle was over; the healing of America had begun.
Regardless of overcoming limitations, opportunities and acting roles while gaining civil rights, business and political achievements, those seeking to gain or keep power will never transcend to times of peace. For them, every step forward is still considered not a big enough step.
This year at Super Bowl 57, the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” aka “the Black national anthem” was performed live for the first time. According to naacp.org, The song written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900, “eloquently captured the solemn yet hopeful appeal for the liberty of Black Americans. Set against the religious invocation of God and the promise of freedom, the song was later adopted by NAACP and prominently used as a rallying cry during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.”
Truth be told, no one denies the reality conveyed in those words. By the same token, no one even disagrees with the song, nor with it being sung. By and large we can all agree that we are not proud of what Black Americans have gone through in the past.
After award winning actress and vocalist Sheryl Lee Ralph eloquently sang her rendition shortly before country singer Chris Stapleton delivered his stirring performance of “The Star Spangled Banner,” the internet as well the Twitterverse exploded with, among many, the Tweet from Colorado congresswoman Lauren Boebert:
“America only has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM. Why is the NFL trying to divide us by playing multiple!? Do football, not wokeness.” The backlash was swift and spirited concerning the Tweet.
There were the pros:
“Play the Asian national anthem, black national anthem, Indian national anthem, Irish national anthem, etc. Like 3 hours of national anthems so we can all be reminded we having nothing to unify us and the country can go tribal like Afghanistan where there is no national identity.” Do some homework!
“I realize that racism exists, there is no denying it. On the other hand, such a small percentage of the population (13%) has never had such an influence over the entire population. So if we keep making everybody special when do we all become equal?” -rongo624107 0
And the cons:
“The gaslighting is the fact that she’s using the concept of unity to divide. She’s doing what she’s accusing the NFL of. It’s a fake grievance contrived to irk and produce the effect of further fracturing society.” – Luke Zaleski
“It’s black history month. The song is meaningful to African Americans. It’s also a historic game with 2 black quarterbacks, the first time ever. Get over yourself and your ridiculous white grievances. If you don’t like it, don’t watch. Simple.” -Anonymous
At the end of the day, two points remain: Was Boebert wrong? Does having two anthems divide rather than unite? The question posed by Florence the maid makes a great deal of sense: Didn’t Blacks overcome? Florence, of course refers to the Negro anthem of the civil rights era, sung by those fighting violence with non-violence, marching against subjugation, and sitting in solidarity against racism, and the violation of civil rights. The song’s lyrics were deep and profound:
“We Shall Overcome, we shall overcome We shall overcome someday. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, We shall overcome someday. We are not afraid, we are not afraid, We are not afraid today. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, We shall overcome someday.”
When both songs were written, racism, the KKK, lynchings and tyranny were very real and present dangers for many. The words in both inspired and encouraged Blacks while enduring the trials they often faced. For that maid, seeing firsthand that Blacks had achieved what many singing that song had desired to do was clearly an inflection point. Segregation, Whites-only drinking fountains and eateries as well as lynchings and firehose attacks were no longer threats, a sign that Blacks should focus on the future-not the past.
The challenge for most of America when it comes to ‘Lift Every Voice And Sing,’ is that it presented the same problem that Juneteenth did in most regards. Juneteenth did not affect all Blacks, just those few in 1863 Texas that received news of the Emancipation Proclamation six months after President Lincoln implemented it.
Nevertheless, all of America is now forced to celebrate nationally what should only have been a Texas celebration locally. The truth is, ‘Lift Every Voice,’ became the new Negro anthem, because ‘We Shall Overcome’ no longer served its purpose. After all, could Black America collectively sing about overcoming when by nearly every measure they already had?
Homage to the Past
Its inspiring lyrics while powerful, once again speak to the trials of a bygone era:
“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.”
Lastly, the purpose of a “National Anthem” or even an “anthem” is to uplift a particular group. In most football stadiums- including the Super Bowl, there are thousands of fans, representatives of nearly every ethnicity, race, creed, and background. Every one of those groups has their own stories of challenges and trials, some more tragic and egregious than others. It is because of this that in a national forum/venue only an anthem that unites us collectively is sufficient and right. Feel free to have, as in the Tweet from “Do_Some_Homework” an “Asian national anthem, Black national anthem, Indian national anthem, Irish national anthem” in those various venues. But to unite, not divide America- all we need is one.