Associated Press, February 28, 2018
Several NBA teams have played what is known as the “negro national anthem” at games during Black History Month thanks in part to the urging of a retired Howard University professor.
Eugene Williams, a 76-year-old retiree in Clinton, Maryland, has made it his goal to get professional and collegiate teams to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during February. He has been calling and writing teams for the past six months.
The Washington Wizards became the fourth NBA team to play the song at a game, doing so during a timeout midway through the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. As the song played, a video was shown with on-court highlights and Wizards players engaging in community activities.
The Oklahoma City Thunder played it in January, Williams said. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Warriors played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in February.
“My mission will be completed if it’s done in stadiums all over the United States of America,” Williams said. “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.”
James Weldon Johnson, an author, civil rights activist and educator, wrote the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, an accomplished musician, wrote the music for the Stanton School celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. A chorus of 500 black children sang the tune.
Within 20 years, it was known around the world. The song became an anthem for black Americans during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.