Several NBA Teams Celebrated Black History Month by Playing ‘Negro National Anthem’ at Games

AP Wilfredo Lee
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Several NBA teams played what many call the “Negro national anthem” as part of their observance of Black History Month, a report says.

The idea of playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during basketball games was the brainchild of Maryland resident Eugene Williams who spent the last six months lobbying each of the NBA’s thirty teams to include the song as part of their celebration of Black History Month, the Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday, February 28, the Washington Wizards became the fourth team to play the song during a game. As the tune was played, the team aired a video showing player game highlights as well as video following players performing social activities and supporting community initiatives.

The Wizards were the very last team to contact him about playing the song, but since Williams is a Maryland resident, the team was the first he contacted six months ago.

The other teams that joined Williams’ initiative were the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Golden State Warriors.

The activist noted that finally getting the Wizards to join his campaign after a six-month campaign proves out the old adage, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.

“I had no idea it would amount to all of this,” Williams said happily.

But the 76-year-old activist also said that he has more work to do.

“My mission will be completed if it’s done in stadiums all over the United States of America,” Williams added. “That is my hope. That is my prayer. It will make our players feel more positive about themselves and about the game … it will uplift their spirits as it does mine.”

Author, civil rights activist, and educator, James Weldon Johnson wrote the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson wrote the music. The song was created for the Stanton School to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in the year 1900. The song debuted with a chorus of 500 black children performing it for the school.

The tune quickly became an anthem for the Negro struggle for equality, and by the 1960s it was a mainstay for activists.

Williams noted that the song was a particular inspiration for him as he grew up.

“For me, it was the fight song. When I was a kid we had to learn it, we had to sing it, we performed it at athletic events, at church events,” Williams said. “It has always stuck with me as something that gave me strength, gave me power, and I feel personally for those people who know it, that anthem does the same thing for them.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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