Several NBA teams played the so-called “Negro National Anthem’ at games during Black History Month, The Associated Press reported. It was done at the urging of retired Howard University professor Eugene Williams.
Williams, 76, of Clinton, Maryland, spent several months writing to and calling professional and collegiate teams to urge them to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Williams wants the song to be sung during pre-game ceremonies and told the AP he won’t stop until the song is heard in stadiums across America. That applies to Black History Month and hopefully beyond, he said.
How many teams have played it?
On Wednesday, the Washington Wizards became the fourth NBA team to play the song at a game. The song was played during a timeout halfway through the first quarter during a game against the Golden State Warriors in Washington, D.C., the AP report stated. The song was accompanied by a video that showed game highlights and Wizards players participating in community activities.
The Oklahoma City Thunder played the song in January. In February, the song was played by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, the AP said.
Williams, who heard heard the song played at the Warriors-Wizards game on the last day of Black History Month, said, “I had no idea it would amount to all of this.”
Participation wasn’t widespread, but Williams plans to keep recruiting NBA teams to play the song, especially during Black History Month, according to the AP. He is also asking universities to include the song during games. It has already been played during Georgetown University games.
“My mission will be completed if it’s done in stadiums all over the United States of America,” Williams said. “That is my hope. That is my prayer. It will make our players feel more positive about themselves and about the game … it will uplift their spirits as it does mine.”
Where did the song originate?
The lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by James Weldon Johnson, an author, civil rights activist and educator. His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, wrote the music for the Stanton School celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. It was sung by a chorus of 500 black children.
Within 20 years, the song was known around the world, the report stated. It later became an anthem for black Americans during the 1960s civil rights movement.
Williams told the AP he grew up hearing the song and wants current athletes to get the same feeling he had.
“For me it was the fight song,” Williams said. “When I was a kid we had to learn it, we had to sing it, we performed it at athletic events, at church events. It has always stuck with me as something that gave me strength, gave me power, and I feel personally for those people who own it, that anthem does the same thing for them.”