Clyburn wants to amplify Black anthem

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn speaks to the Journalisms Roundtable on Jan. 3.



House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest ranking Black member of Congress,  told journalists on Jan. 3 that he plans to introduce legislation to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the “national hymn.”

“I’ve been toying around with an idea now for two or three decades, ever since I’ve been in the Congress,” Clyburn said during Richard Prince’s Journal-isms Roundtable Jan. 3. “I’ve been trying to build up enough nerve to introduce a national hymn.

“I instructed my staff two weeks ago to prepare legislation for me to apply this week to make ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ our national hymn. We have a national anthem; we don’t have a national hymn. I would love to see that become our national hymn, and being sung at events, not as the Negro National Anthem, but as the United States of America’s national hymn.

“We are putting that legislation in this week. I hope I can survive and see [that] it passes.”

Written in 1900

The idea may already be taking shape.  After a year of a national racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd  by Minneapolis police, the  NFL decided that during its opening week, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” would be performed before each game,  ahead of “The Star Spangled Banner,” as  Andrew R. Chow  reported in July for Time magazine.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,’’ a soaring hymn that is sung while standing with respect during many Black events, was written by James Weldon Johnson and put to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, in 1900. The words of the song describe the struggle of Black people in America from slavery to freedom.

In his conversation with the more than 50 journalists and guests, Clyburn, who provided the key Democratic primary endorsement that propelled Joe Biden into the presidency and now chairs the Biden inaugural committee, said  he did not expect  President Trump to attend the Jan. 20 inaugural ceremony.

On Trump’s call

Clyburn also said he was no surprised when told that Trump “urged fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger,  the Georgia secretary of state, to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn his defeat in an extraordinary one-hour phone call Saturday that legal scholars described as a flagrant abuse of power and a potential criminal act.”

Hearing of the then breaking news story, Clyburn said, “We can expect almost anything from this president.”

Clyburn also expressed concerns that the swearing-in of Kamala Harris as the nation’s first vice president of color has added to security concerns.

Clyburn, whom the Guardian last week called “the most important politician of 2020,” was introduced by his daughter, Mignon Clyburn, formerly acting chair and member of the Federal Communications Commission and who serves on the FCC transition team. Her father said he had secured agreement from Biden to back universal internet access, an issue in which the FCC also has jurisdiction.

“The greatest thing that we can do in the 21st century for rural America, for what I would call low-income communities, is to have internet in every home,” Clyburn told the participants on the Zoom call. Journalisms Roundtable is a monthly gathering of journalists discussing race, journalism and current events, with more watching on Facebook Live.

On holiday vandalism

Further, Clyburn warned about infiltration of the Black Lives Matter movement, pointing to vandalism targeting the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate over the holiday weekend.

The attackers blighted “their homes with graffiti and in one case a pig’s head as Congres failed to approve an increase in the amount of money being sent to individuals to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic,” as the Associated Press reported.

“How sophisticated it was, that’s somebody trying to start something,” Clyburn said of the vandalism. “That’s what that is.

“We have to be careful that we do not allow an infiltration of this movement. Ask the attorney general of Minnesota what they found out…in Minneapolis when people started breaking out windows and breaking down buildings. It was an infiltration there.

March terminated

“In Columbia, S.C., we had a very peaceful march in Columbia in support of Black Lives Matter. Their timing was wrong, and when the folks got there to infiltrate the movement, we had terminated the march, had come to an end, but they still went around Columbia, breaking out windows. And we did an investigation and it had nothing to do with the movement. I wonder where they came from. I don’t know why they came, but we knew that they went to work and arrested them for having done it.

“So, all I’m saying to you is, just because it’s being done in the name of the movement doesn’t mean it’s a part of the movement. That’s a part of what your job is going to be going forward.

“That’s why you’re going to be so important.” Journalists of color have “had the life experiences” to know when certain assumptions don’t pass the smell test.

On getting vaccine

Clyburn, who was scheduled to get the coronavirus vaccine this week, said this about getting the vaccination:

“I know about the Tuskegee experiment. And I’ve lived a lot of inequities. I know what it is to have appendicitis, and then have to go through the back door of a doctor’s office to go through a segregated wing of a hospital. They have your appendix removed…

“But you’re going to be an integral part of educating the public on this vaccine. Because we are not going to get rid of this pandemic until we get beyond it, which we cannot get beyond until we have organized and scientifically imposed herd immunity. Not Trump’s herd immunity, but the herd immunity that comes with sufficient distribution and utilization of the vaccine.

“If you don’t do the vaccine, we’re not going to get to where we need to be, and we’re not going to get there until the public is sufficiently educated on the fact that this is not an experiment. This — this time — is real, and you got to have faith and confidence in the process.”



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