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The NFL Playing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” is Smart but Placating

James Weldon Johnson is still shaking his head, Goodell

The NFL continues its attempt to walk back its lack of support for Colin Kaepernick and eradication of police brutality. The league plans to have the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed live or played before every game in Week 1 of the NFL season.

According to reports, the Black national anthem will be played before “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Hmmm…

This will begin with the nationally televised first game of the season, which is on September 10th. The defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, host the Houston Texans.

The song also will be played during the full slate of those Week 1 Sunday afternoon games, during Sunday Night Football and during the two Monday night games, according to reports.

Additionally, sources say that the league is working collaboratively with players to recognize victims of systemic racism throughout the season.

Among the items being discussed with players are adding names of victims on helmet decals or jerseys patches, something similar is being considered in the NBA.

In addition, educational programs and storytelling like PSAs about the victims and their families.

But a Mere Step In The Right Direction

The NFL is attempting to make amends for their initial lack of foresight.

However, for many it is a little too late as the whiff of placating is strong in the air. Not only is the league late on recognizing police brutality as the catalyst for protesting of all forms currently, but also in the way they are rolling out the Black national anthem gesture.

Playing it before the official U.S. national anthem  is a bad look. They should play ONLY “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” which would have greater impact.

Since we all know that the players being present for the national anthem was a financial play for the league that means it can be abolished.

Kaepernick’s silent protest led to an initial loss of income when he wasn’t picked up by any teams after. The NFL should sacrifice whatever proceeds it gets for making the national anthem a spectacle to show how much it really believes in the movement.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson.

Johnson’s brother John Rosamond Johnson set the poem to music in 1899. It was first performed in 1900 by a choir at the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida — where James Weldon Johnson was principal — as part of a celebration of former President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

Remember folks, these were during times when people of color were glad to be recognized as human. Celebrations of Lincoln as the so-called great “Emancipator” though overblown were understood given the times.

However, there is literally no reconciliation for the Star Spangled Banner or its author, Francis Scott Key.

Why We Kneel

In 1814, Francis Scott Key was a slaveholding lawyer from an old Maryland plantation family. Thanks to a system of human bondage, trafficking and abuse, his family had grown rich and powerful.

In 1931, he wrote the poem that would become the national anthem and proclaim our nation “the land of the free,” but his actions proved anything but.

Key not only profited from slaves but he harbored racist conceptions of American citizenship and human potential. Africans in America, he said, were: “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”

A few weeks after British troops in the War of 1812 stunned and demoralized America by attacking Washington and setting the Capitol building and the White House ablaze on August 24, 1814; the British turned their attention to the vital seaport of Baltimore.

On September 13, 1814, British warships commenced an attack on Fort McHenry, which protected the city’s harbor. For 25 hours bombs and rockets rained down on the fort, while Americans, still wondering whether their newfound freedom would really be so short-lived, awaited news of Baltimore’s fate.

Key was stuck aboard a British ship, where he had been negotiating a prisoner release and barred by the officers of the HMS Tonnant from leaving because he knew too much about their position.

He could only watch the battle and hope for the best. That voyeurism would inspire the nation’s future anthem but it came through his much maligned view of enslaved Africans.

By the “dawn’s early light” of the next day, Key saw the huge garrison flag, now on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, waving above Fort McHenry and he realized that the Americans had survived the battle and stopped the enemy advance.

While Key was resting with the enemy, he composed the line “O’er the land of the free,” while enslaved people were trying to reach British ships in Baltimore Harbor. They knew that they were far more likely to find freedom and liberty under the Union Jack than they were under the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Do The Right Thing

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written at a pivotal time, when Jim Crow was replacing slavery and African-Americans were searching for an identity.

In 1905, Booker T. Washington endorsed it, and in 1919, it became the official song of the NAACP. The song became a rallying cry for black communities but it can do the same for America.

Key used his office as the District Attorney for the City of Washington from 1833 to 1840 to defend slavery, attacking the abolitionist movement in several high-profile cases.

In the mid-1830s, the movement was gaining momentum and with it came increased violence, particularly from pro-slavery mobs attacking free blacks and white abolitionists, and other methods to silence the growing cries for abolition. In a House of Representatives and United States Senate inundated with petitions from abolitionists calling for the ending or restriction of slavery, pro-slavery Congressmen looked for a way to suppress the voices of abolitionists.

Francis Scott key wrote the Star Spangled Banner while afflicted with the pandemic known as racism. He was a forced labor camp owner and staunch believer in keeping people of color down.

This is why we kneel and this is why the NFL should use this moment to shed light on the only American anthem sans hypocrisy, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.

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