Civil rights activists  led by Dr. Martin Luther King sing as they march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

Martin Luther King leads singing civil rights marchers from Selma to to Montgomery in 1965.

Photo by Matt Herron

How Dare They Show Up All Black and Excellent: Lift Every Voice

Boasting the usual hype, glitz, plugs and some football, Sunday also showcased what was arguably "the Blackest, most woke Super Bowl ever": Black History Month, two first-ever black quarterbacks, black performers, and sweet white Jesus a soaring Black National Anthem?! MAGA-land heads exploded: Satan, racism, divisiveness, leaving "NOTHING for the White People of our land!" "Hateful gargoyle" MTG: The white singer was good but "we could have gone without the wokeness." America: "You mean the blackness."

Given a relative universe and the ugly paradoxes of the NFL - two of three players are black in a gilded, long-segregated league where owners are so right-wing they blackballed Colin Kaepernick for putting his knee on the ground to protest cops daily killing innocent black people - it's understandable Americans hungry for a hopeful glimpse of progress could declare of this weekend's game, "This wasn’t the Super Bowl. This was Wakanda." Well, not quite. There was also Elon Musk sitting with Rupert Murdoch and a deluge of mostly mediocre $7-million-ads - Walter and Jesse, really? - including two unholy ones for Jesus ("He gets us") from supporters of a nationwide ban on abortion medication. AOC: "Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign." But in this year's improbable "mirror for us all," a gaudy intermingling of capitalism, jingoism, sport and spectacle, there were signs corporate America is grudgingly realizing there are more people of conscience who support diversity and equity than MAGA hateful gargoyles, and there's money in it. Thus, two starting black quarterbacks, an end-zone that read, "End Racism," a traditional flyover by the first all-women pilot team, and a bounty of Black musical talent, from Babyface to Rihanna and her fabulous dancers.

And for the third year there was, Lord give us strength, a soaring rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by Sheryl Lee Ralph, star of the TV comedy "Abbott Elementary." A hymn written originally as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900 - his brother composed the music - it was first performed by a choir of 500 black schoolchildren at the Florida school where Johnson was principal to mark Abraham Lincoln's birthday on that date in 1809. 100 years later, with black Americans suffering widespread discrimination and brutalities by whites outraged they'd "forgotten their place," a group of progressives, black and white, met to create a new civil rights organization to "eradicate caste or race prejudice among citizens of the United States." Sorrowfully noting, “If Mr. Lincoln could revisit this country in the flesh he would be disheartened and discouraged," they chose the anniversary of his birth as the start of the NAACP. For years, W.E.B. DuBois edited its flagship journal The Crisis, calling out the "shame of America" that was its systemic racial inequality and arguing, "Silence under these conditions means tacit approval." The hymn became the official song of the NAACP in 1919, a rallying cry for civil rights activists, children of the segregated South, in the 1950s and 60s and, over time, an unofficial Black National Anthem.

Notwithstanding its rich history and Ralph's dazzling performance, bigots across America - who believe storming the capitol to overturn an election is a tourist visit but a song before a football game is treason - went berserk, raging about "their little stunt called the Black National Anthem." They went vicious, frenzied, petty, malevolent, delusional, feral: "All Blacks is what they are catering to, NOTHING for the White People of our land!" "There is only 1 National Anthem. Don't watch the game. Make it hurt." "ITS NO LONGER GOING TO BE THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER. ITS GOING TO BE THE RAINBOW BANNER WITH THE HOST SATAN." "You don't win by ceding ground to the woke...We must stand up and defend sports from those who want to destroy it." From a "huge NFL fan until the Chinese and woke corporations ruined it for me: Boycott the Super Bowl and watch the Puppy Bowl, with puppies rescued from Dr. Death Fauci's cruel lab." Bigly loser Kari Lake stayed pointedly, sullenly seated - white people taking a knee? - and posted, "I'm just here for THE National Anthem." (The game was in Arizona, so they probably wouldn't accept the result anyway.) "America has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM. Why is the NFL trying to divide us?" bleated Lauren Boebert. "Do football, not wokeness."

Her frenemy MTG tried to compare and contrast. "Chris Stapleton just sang the most beautiful National Anthem," she wrote of the (white) country singer. "But we could have gone without the rest of the wokeness." Many noted the ignorance tacked onto the racism. In a famousinterview after George Floyd's murder, Stapleton cited a "broad awakening" and declared himself a BLM supporter: "It's time for me to listen...The country I thought we were living in was a myth." Twitter helped translate the rest of MTG: "She means the Black man and woman who sang just before him, and the ASL interpreters." And "a bunch of scary black people singing, dancing, playing football and sitting in Fox sportscaster chairs." And “Please say what you mean: You could’ve done without the black people." "Neanderthals are gonna Neanderthal," wrote Yvette Nicole Brown. "The #Wokeness this shitgibbon is referring to is (Ralph) and (Babyface) performing. How DARE they show up all black and excellent?" Desperate MAGA-ites also trashed Rihanna as "Satanic" (she wore red) and not as good as Ted Nugent; the Big Maggot himself chimed in with, "Epic fail," adding she'd also insulted "far more than half our nation (with) her foul and insulting language" (in a video a while back where she sprayed "Fuck Trump" on a car). And he congratulated "the great state of Kansas" for their win. The team's from Missouri. (Person, woman, man, camera, TV.)

Many were appalled by so much deep, raw, jagged hate: "In other words, white is good and black is bad...When you're used to privilege, equality feels like oppression....You people got issues and prolly all look the same...Woke up to MORE messages of people telling me that their children are 'traumatized' by Rihanna (and) I need to seek forgiveness in Christ because I’m not outraged about the performance. Some of you need to get a grip and learn to change the channel...Just say you're racists." Most tragically, all (or most) of the spewing was in the mindless service of deriding a righteous, stirring, time-honored hymn to celebrate a people's freedom from slavery, and the courage of one white American president to work towards that. Scholars often pay tribute to the song's complex make-up, its "intimately held knowledge” not only of Black history, but of Black pride, resilience and resistance as it makes its poignant way from past to future, through stanzas moving from praise (“rejoicing,” “faith” “victory”) to lament ("the chastening rod,” “blood of the slaughtered”) to faith: "Keep us forever in the path, we pray." Above all, they cite a noble "anthem of universal uplift" that, in its careful use of only first-person plural pronouns, excludes no one and "speaks to every group that struggles." But only if you can hear it.

"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..."

Lift every voice and sing,
Till 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 till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning 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,
Till 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 hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast 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.

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