Why ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ should be the American national hymn

James E. Clyburn

Symbols matter, but there is no substitute for substance, and believe me I get it. But the power and importance of symbols are the reasons I believe designating “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as America’s national hymn would be a substantive step in our pursuit of “a more perfect Union.” If you saw Alicia Keys sing this stirring anthem at the Super Bowl, you will know what I mean.

I take to heart the reticence of those who argue that such an act would do nothing to feed the hungry, house the homeless or provide jobs to the unemployed. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written in 1900 by an African American, James Weldon Johnson, to celebrate the 91st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and set to music by his brother, John Rosamund Johnson. It is a hymn that acknowledges the difficulties of our past and challenges of the future. Consider the following words:  

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