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The Black national anthem was born more than a century ago, but the popular hymn within the African American community called “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has resurrected a beacon of hope during nationwide protests, Jonathan Landrum Jr. wrote for the Associated Press (AP) late on July 5, 2020.

Some marches were peaceful, while others turned violent. But one common thread at protests were people chanting the anthem‘s long-lasting message of faithfulness, freedom and equality. “I saw whites singing that song saying ‘No justice, no peace’ and ‘’Black Lives Matter.’ It’s something I didn’t see early in my career or even 15 years ago,” recalled Rev. Al Sharpton while protesters in Minneapolis in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. “You got to see people other than us appreciating our song, our anthem. This is just not a moment. This is a real movement.”

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson before his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, turned it into music in 1899. The song was performed for the first time in 1900, not long after it was written. The NAACP dubbed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the Black national anthem in 1919. The decision came more than a decade before “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the national anthem of the US.

During the civil rights movement, the song was popular during protests with the likes of “We Shall Overcome” and “Amazing Grace,” which was written by former slave trader John Newton, but his song helped define racial equality. Sharpton said the ability of the hymn enduring several generations speaks volumes. “The fact that this song could survive us going from the back of the bus and the outhouse to the Truman Balcony at the White House, it shows that this song really resonates in our hearts,” he said. “Very few songs would last through those kinds of changes in Black America. That’s why it’s a great barometer to the cultural shift.”