The National Football League (NFL) kicks off on September 10 with a match between Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans at former's home ground. The opening week of the league will have a unique feature. With the whole nation convulsed by protests over George Floyd's killing, the League will also join in by playing the 'Black National Anthem' before the official one.

The NFL had previously also become involved with issues related to race and African-Americans. Many footballers had decided to kneel during the National Anthem in the previous few years to protest the wrongful treatment of blacks by authorities, something that drew an angry response from conservatives as well as President Donald Trump himself.

In the wake of the nationwide protests, NFL decided to reverse its earlier official stand of opposing the act of kneeling and decided to support it. Playing 'Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing' before 'Star-Spangled Banner' is another move from the organisation to show its solidarity for the anti-racism cause.

NFL
NFL season kicks off on September 10 Pixabay

History of Black Anthem

So, what is this Black National Anthem and where does it come from. Not many people outside the United States of America (USA) and some even within it would know much about it.

This anthem was originally a poem penned by civil rights activist and writer James Weldon Johnson. According to public service broadcaster NPR, it was written in late 19th century, at a time when segregation was being put in place in Southern USA with the enactment of Jim Crow laws.

The person who provided a musical score for the poem was its author's brother John Rosamond Johnson, a musician. The first public performance of this 'anthem' took place in Jacksonville, Florida on February 12, 1900. The performers were 500 children at Stanton School, a segregated institution itself, whose principal was Weldon Johnson himself.

James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson composed the song, originally as a poem Twitter

This performance commemorated the birth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln, the President whose administration abolished slavery and led the country to victory in the Civil War against the 'Confederate States of America' – a collection of southern states who wanted to keep slavery alive in their domain.

Becoming Black Anthem

The conferring of the status of Black National Anthem to this song happened in 1919 when the National Association for Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) declared it to be so. The path for its anointment had been cleared when in 1905, leading African-American educator and civil rights activist Booker T Washington lent his support to the poem.

The song has since been performed on numerous major occasions – at the Wattstax Concert in 1972 by Kim Weston in front of an audience of 100,000; in a special video by leading vocalists such as Stevie Wonder and Anita Baker; and by Beyonce in 2018 at a special event in Coachella.

It is also a song that is often performed in churches thronged by African-Americans and in events related to the history of the community.

You can read the lyrics here