Opinion | African-Americans and the Strains of the National Anthem


By the early 20th century, African-Americans were already turning their backs on the “Star-Spangled Banner” in favor of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — known as the Negro national anthem — written by James Weldon Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. Passages like “We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered” acknowledge the place of lynching and slavery in the national history.

The bellicose and jingoistic “Star-Spangled Banner” became ubiquitous as Americans rallied to the flag during World War II, giving the idea of patriotism an increasingly narrow — and militaristic — resonance.

The Negro press applied Du Bois’s double consciousness forcefully during this period: It characterized the war as a battle to defeat two foes — Nazism…

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