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The Black National Anthem

Remember singing this in the segregated elementary school I attended in Virginia. Remember proudly singing it at my brother’s and cousin’s graduation from Howard. Remember singing it instead of the Star Spangled Banner at events and protest marches in the 60’s and 70’s.

The Anthem was written by James Weldon Johnson

If you haven’t heard it or experienced it –

Black Americans Have Our Own National Anthem. Stand Up and Sing It With Us.

It has been around for 117 years, after all.

On a cloudy day in May 2015, several hundred Howard University seniors, myself included, filed into the school’s main quadrangle for commencement, a ceremony that kicked off with “The Star Spangled Banner.” I can’t honestly recall whether my fellow black students sang the words that day, but many typically did not. The America whose praises we were called upon to sing rarely returned the sentiment, and more often treated us like outcasts. We’d been reminded of this just weeks earlier, when Walter Scott of North Charleston, South Carolina, was shot in the backfive times while fleeing from a cop, the latest in a seemingly endless list of of black men to have their lives cut short by police officers.

But the crowd was galvanized as we moved to the next song on the program. It was one we usually sang as a matter of routine, but on that day we heard it as a rallying cry, and sang it proudly and passionately—fists raised skyward in defiant assertion of a blackness that we loved even if the rest of the nation did not. The song was “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” For us, it had another name: the black national anthem.

James Weldon Johnson (right) and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson review sheet music for “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Unless you attended one of the historically black colleges that pair “Lift” with the official national anthem at ceremonies and sporting events, or you spent a lot of time in black churches, in black civil rights spaces, or in majority-black grade schools, you might never have heard the song. But for much of the last century it was a staple of black life in America.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first unveiled at a school showcase in 1900 marking what would have been Abraham Lincoln’s 91st birthday. It was penned by James Weldon Johnson, a graduate of the historically black Atlanta University (now Clark-Atlanta).

At the time, Johnson was a writer and the principal of a colored school in Jacksonville, Florida. (He later became a civil rights activist and US ambassador.) Members of the community had asked him to write a speech for the Lincoln affair. Instead, he wrote a hymn (his brother composed the music) and taught it to his 500 students. 

Their performance was a hit. The song caught on in black Jacksonville and began spreading throughout the South. Churchgoers would even paste the lyrics on the backs of hymnals, says Imani Perry, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University whose book about the song, May We Forever Stand, is due out in February. Black newspapers and journals published the lyrics to “Lift,” and by 1906 they were calling it “an anthem for the Negro people.” (Sheet music for the song was imprinted with the subtitle “Negro National Anthem” beginning in the 1960s.)  

Dr Carter and the WSSU CHoir at Ellington

During the 1910s, many black schools and colleges—Howard included—adopted “Lift” for their graduation ceremonies, and the K-12 schools incorporated it into “daily or weekly rituals” according to Perry: “So kids are singing it at segregated schools at assemblies—sometimes every morning.” The NAACP adopted “Lift” as its official song in 1921. (Johnson had become an executive in the organization.) And when Negro History Week (now Black History Month) was established five years later, Perry says, teachers started using the song to teach vocabulary and history.

Shana Redmond, a professor of musicology at the University of California-Los Angeles, says many of those teachers relied on “Lift” to “instill in their students those things that would best arm them” for a hostile world. “One of those things was about pride in self, about knowing your own heroes, your own ancestors.”

At the time Johnson wrote his hymn, lynchings had recently hit their peak in the South, the fall of Reconstruction remained an open wound, and offensive caricatures of blackness were pervasive. Patriotic odes like “The Star Spangled Banner” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” were popular, too, but black southerners were hungry for a cultural product that spoke to them.

“Lift” was that product. “It was the first widely circulated song that tells the story of black Americans, right at the time when black people are building institutional and civic life, as black people are imagining themselves,” Perry says. Johnson depicted blackness as “proud and prideful, as progressing forward, and as enduring, as empowered,” Redmond told me. “It was not solely an ode to this so-called Black Emancipator.” 

With words –

The 1814 poem that became “The Star Spangled Banner” was something radically different, coming from a slave owner who was open in his disdain for the black race. “There was a scorn for blackness,” Redmond says. Many historians read part of Francis Scott Key’s third stanza as a celebration of the deaths of slaves who escaped to fight against their captors, siding with the British during the War of 1812. “But it’s also, to a certain extent, that blackness was not considered, in the least, part of the republic.”

And whereas “Lift” speaks to a future black folks can aspire to, Redmond adds, the anthem “is really not about a future—other than a future already proscribed by what is assumed as a constant greatness.”  

So by 1931, when “The Star Spangled Banner” was officially codified as America’s anthem, black people already had a song they were treating as their own—which spread further as African Americans migrated north and west during World War I, seeking new opportunities and fleeing the violence of Jim Crow. Black intellectuals debated over whether black Americans fighting for inclusion and enlisting in the military to defend their nation’s overseas interests should insist on a separate anthem—Johnson, himself, preferred to call his song the national negro hymn. But there’s “no evidence,” Perry says, that black communities at large were “ambivalent” about the song.

During World War II, in fact, black servicemen, still in segregated units, sang “Lift” alongside the national anthem at sporting events and other formal assemblies on their bases, says Robert Jefferson, an expert on black military history at the University of New Mexico. “During the first half of the 20th century, that song is revered by the black American military.” 

The popularity of “Lift” waxed and waned over the years—it was usurped during the civil rights era by songs such as “We Shall Overcome” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” But in the 1970s, amid the Black Power movement, it was sometimes sung with an air of resistance. “People are singing the song with raised fists, dashikis, afros,” says Perry, and black students at newly integrated schools fought to keep it in public school programs alongside the national anthem.

Indeed, the opening up of white spaces to African Americans has contributed to the song’s decline. Following the gains of the Civil Rights movement, black people participated less in civic groups that sang the song in their rituals, Perry says. In 1985—roughly 20 years after Congress passed a law mandating the integration of public schools—an Ohio State University sociologist found that about one-third of black college students could no longer identify “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” By that time, enrollment at black colleges and universities had dropped profoundly from their historic highs under Jim Crow. “It is inconceivable,” the researcher wrote, “that African-American college students of even a decade ago would have responded in this fashion.”

The spaces where black people hear “Lift” today are few and far between. We sometimes sing it in church, as I did growing up on the Southside of Chicago. It still can be heard at Black History Month programs and at formal gatherings of civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League, and, of course, at HBCUs like my alma mater. But even HBCU students, decades removed from the song’s heyday, don’t necessarily feel connected to “Lift” in the way our grandparents or even our parents were, if my fellow Howard students and I were any indication. Few of us could sing past the first verse. My performance of it was usually pretty perfunctory. It wasn’t until recently that I really thought about the words and discovered how much they resonated with me.

Buried in the history of black people’s storied affair with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a lesson on why we feel differently from white Americans about the NFL players who kneel during the national anthem: Because our relationship with the nation has been so fraught, black people have long felt ambivalent about the symbols and rituals of white America—which is why “Lift,” written for us, by us, exists in the first place. Black folks are compelled to tell our stories on our own terms, and for us the story has been one of unceasing struggle and protest. How fitting, then, that we would use America’s symbols to ink ourselves into its narrative.

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Posted by on November 14, 2017 in Black History, BlackLivesMatter

 

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Papa Machete

Like a lot of things in Haiti’s rich culture, much is shrouded in secrecy. Sadly, the consequence of that is that many things have become lost.

Visit the country for any length of time, and you find out there is this whole other world beneath the surface.

Image result for Machete fighting history louisiana

While working there, a Haitian friend accused a politician of “getting out his vote” with “Machete Boys”. On the surface, an outsider would miss both the historical and cultural context of this. During the Haitian Revolution, the former slaves did not have many guns, or even access to gunpowder with which to make bullets. They fought the gun armed French Soldiers with one of the few tools they had, machetes. And won.

Now whether the art came with the former slaves from Africa (stick fighting), or was developed in  Haiti is shrouded in history. What we do know, is machete fighting is a Martial Arts style, perhaps not entirely unique to the Island Nation (there are also unique forms of this in Brazil using the Bolo, Colombia,  Cuba,  as well as in SE Asia). So when a Haitian uses the term “Machete Boys”, the meaning is rich with historical and cultural allusion.

One of the Masters of this form is beginning to talk about it. Papa Machete.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2017 in Black History, Haiti

 

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Bigot Butt Busting – Journalist Gary Younge vs Racist Richard Spencer

Enjoy!

 

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Gen John Kelly Digs a Deeper Hole…

This guy is a Chumphshit…He has just burned down any reespect or reputation he may have had.

 

‘Too many white people don’t know history’: Roland Martin schools the hell out of Gen. Kelly on the Civil War

Commentator Roland Martin delivered a scathing rebuttal to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s comments that the root cause of the Civil War was the “inability to compromise.”

Appearing on MSNBC’s Velshi & Ruhle, the popular political observer lashed out at Kelly, saying he needs to read a history book — later adding that Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who didn’t push back at Kelly’s comments during the interview, should brush up on her history too.

Responding to Kelly’s Civil War comment, that “men and women of good faith on both sides helped them make their stand,” Martin was off and running.

“History is history, but for fact’s sake, let’s tell the truth,” Martin began. “First of all, historic fact number one. The Civil War was fought over slavery. 11 southern states left the United States in 1860 and 1861 in order to protect the institution of slavery following the election of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was an avowed opponent of the expansion of slavery that said he would not interfere with it where it already existed.”

“The debate over the future of slavery led to secession, and secession brought about a war,” he continued. “The first state to secede, South Carolina, on December 20th, 1860, approved of an ordinance of secession and offered an invitation to form a confederacy of slave holding states,” he added.

Turning specifically back to General Kelly, Martin insisted that his comments shouldn’t be allowed to go unchallenged.

“I’m not going to allow four stars stuck on stupid to simply go on,” he lectured. “Here’s a man who’s utterly clueless. For him to say, ‘well, we could have compromised,’ really? We did compromise. It was a thing called United States Constitution and you know what that said? If you’re a black, you’re 3/5ths of a human.”

“How about the Hayes/Tilden compromise that ended the 12 years of Reconstruction and ushered in Jim Crow, removed the federal troops from the last three remaining southern capitals?” he added. ” So I need John Kelly to actually go back and read a history book that my 12-year-old nieces are reading right now because clearly he fell asleep in history.”

“We have too many people in this country who are white who do not know history and  who want to somehow glorify these Confederate leaders,” Martin continued. “I’m telling you right now, they ain’t my founding fathers and they’re not my leaders. We need to have real history. And I will say to John Kelly: shame on you.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates Tears Into John Kelly’s ‘Creationist Theorizing’ On Civil War

“Shocking that someone charged with defending their country, in some profound way, does not comprehend the country they claim to defend.”

White House chief of staff John Kelly claimed Monday that a “lack of ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” But the reality is that the path to civil war was marked by numerous compromises on slavery, as the author Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out on Twitter Tuesday morning. In fact, the war started because of the people who wanted to maintain and expand the right to own other people as property.

“I mean, like, it’s called The three fifths compromise for a reason,” Coates tweeted early Tuesday, referring to the constitutional provision that increased representation for slave states in the House of Representatives in 1787.

“But it doesn’t stand alone,” Coates said. “Missouri Compromise. Kansas-Nebraska Act.”

After the Civil War, he later tweeted, there was also the Compromise of 1877, which further disenfranchised black people once federal troops withdrew from Southern states.

President Abraham Lincoln, Coates noted, also compromised on several occasions. Not only did he not actually want to abolish slavery, but he “repeatedly sought to compromise by paying reparations ― to slaveholders ― and shipping blacks out the country.”

He didn’t even mention the Compromise of 1850, which among other things allowed the South to implement slavery in new U.S. territories gained during the Mexican-American War.

The enslaved black populations of the South, Coates said, “did not need modern white wokeness to tell them slavery was wrong.”

Kelly defended Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monday, calling him an “honorable man” ― a declaration that Coates compared to “some kid insisting his deadbeat dad is actually a secret agent away on a mission.” Lee, he said, was a “dude who thought torture was cool.”

“Even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black,” Adam Serwer, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote in June.

If Kelly can laud someone who sold human beings, Coates concluded, “you really do see the effect of white supremacy.” Last month, Coates said that President Donald Trump “might be a white supremacist.”

 

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A Bit of History – How Kenny Washington Integrated the NFL in 1946

My local NFL Team, the Washington Redskins was the last NFL Team to integrate, as as such were perennial losers. They even passed on  drafting Jim Brown, who was one of the greatest running backs in league history. As such a lot of black folks in the Washington, DC area rooted for the Baltimore Colts of Johnny Unitas and John Mackey. The Colts had integrated their team in 1953, with George Taliaferro, Claude “Buddy” Young and Mel Embree.

70% of the players in the NFL today are black. Which provides an interestin context to the Chumph’s racist attacks on the players.

When and how did the NFL integrate? Well, it started in 1946 with Kenny Washington and Woody Strode (of movie fame).

Interesting is the history of “The Forgotten Four”, who integrated the NFL before Jackie Robinson integrated MLB.

The following provides a link to the full Documentary, which is free to watch.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2017 in Black History, Giant Negros

 

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The NFL Slave Rebellion and White Priviledge

This on Roland Martin’s NewsOne show, and especially the piece here by Sports Commentato Dale Hansen is really powerful…

 

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Rep. John Lewis on Trump Racism

Lewis lays it out as clear as a bell here.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe marching  in the streets and singing “We Shall Overcome” is going to do much this time around. We need to find much more direct ways to resist. Whether economic, or breaking the established systems through non-cooperation there needs to be a hard stop. I am certainly not advocating bomb throwing (yet) – but if Counselor Mueller fails to take this Piece of Shit out, or Congress politically refuses to react to the evidence…

Then it may well come to that.

 

 

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