House members discuss bill that would make ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ a national hymn

Famous song is often called ‘Black National Anthem’

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is throwing his support behind a bill in Congress that would make “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” the national hymn of the United States. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties met Friday to discuss a bill that would make “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” the national hymn of the United States, News 6 partner WJXT-TV reported.

The famous song written by Jacksonville’s James Weldon Johnson is often called the “Black National Anthem.” The hymn was written as a poem by the NAACP leader, lawyer and educator in 1900, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, wrote the music, according to News 6 partner WJXT-TV.

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At Friday’s hearing, Leon Russell, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, and Melanie Edwards, grand-niece of Johnson, spoke.

They described the song as a theme for the modern civil rights movement being played at stadiums to churches across the country for decades.

“Like the Black men who created it, ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ comments eloquently and accurately about history, hope vision and perseverance,” Edwards said.

No major decisions were made Friday on the bill (H.R.301), which was introduced by U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina and has been backed by more than 40 Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Florida.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has also thrown his support behind the bill. NAACP Jacksonville Chapter President Isaiah Rumlin praised Curry for writing a letter to Congress this week expressing support for the bill and the Jacksonville icon at the start of Black History Month.

“Most of us like to call it the ‘Negro National Anthem,’ but it’s not an anthem, it is a hymn that James Weldon Johnson penned. And that’s what Rep. [James] Clyburn put in his bill, that let this be our hymn, not an anthem for this country,” Rumlin told News4JAX on Thursday.

In the letter that Curry sent to Clyburn expressing his support, he wrote: “For too long the legacy of the Johnson brothers was neglected and ignored by city leaders. We have renewed our commitment to honoring Jacksonville’s history and significance in the lead up to and the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Curry noted that under his administration Hemming Park was renamed to James Weldon Johnson Park and Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park is now coming to life in LaVilla.

Rumlin hopes Johnson’s legacy lives on forever in Jacksonville.

“He was born right here in the city of Jacksonville. And as a result of his intellect, he was able to do so much for this city, for this state and for this country,” Rumlin said.

According to the Senate Historical Office, six songs have been proposed in Congress to become official national hymns, including “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America,” but none of them passed.

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.