It is a surprise to some who haven’t spent time in African-American cultural institutions that Lift Every Voice and Sing is a standard for many events. It never substitutes for the US national anthem.
It is equally surprising not to know the lyrics of a song that is much more fun and more religious to sing than the US national anthem, but that’s not the choice for all NFL games, only the first ones of the season.
The National Anthem will be sung/played as always for all NFL games.
Needless to say, the racist reactionaries have come out in force in social media with trollish concern and logical fallacies.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday by Johnson's brother John. In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dubbed it “the Negro national hymn” for its power in voicing a cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people.
The song is a prayer of thanksgiving for faithfulness and freedom, with imagery evoking the biblical Exodus from slavery to the freedom of the “promised land”. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is featured in 39 different Christian hymnals, and is sung in churches across North America.
In Maya Angelou's 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the song is sung by the audience and students at Maya's eighth grade graduation, after a white school official dashes the educational aspirations of her class.
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
In 2020, Google played a spoken word version of the song in a Google Doodle celebrating the Juneteenth holiday, performed by LeVar Burton. In the same year, snippets of the song were played prior to and after Mike Phillips and West Byrd's recitation of the US national anthem at NASCAR's 2020 Pocono 350.