"I love the song," said Askew, an associate professor of English at Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college. "But it's not the song that is the problem. It's the label of the song as a 'black national anthem' that creates a lot of confusion and tension."
The song and its message of struggle and hope have long been attached to the African-American community. It lives on as a religious hymn for several protestant and African-American denominations and was quoted by the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration.
After studying the music and lyrics of the song and its history for more than two decades, Askew decided the song was intentionally written with no specific reference to any race or ethnicity.
Askew explains his position in the new book, "Cultural Hegemony and African American Patriotism: An Analysis of the Song, 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,'" which was released by Linus Publications in June. The book explores the literary and musical traditions of the song, but also says that a national anthem for African-Americans can be construed as racially separatist and divisive.
"To sing the 'black national anthem' suggests that black people are separatist and want to have their own nation," Askew said. "This means that everything Martin Luther King Jr. believed about being one nation gets thrown out the window."
Why is it always those of the African Diaspora who have to sacrifice our heritage in order to make others feel 'comfortable?' Instead of speaking on the Black National Anthem's so called separatism, the professor would have been better served trying to enlighten the masses about the history of the song and the pain and struggle through which it was birthed and what made such a song necessary. So often we choose to disavow our heritage without taking into consideration the history of our struggle. We, as a people, are more ashamed of our history in America, then any other race. We constantly produced black apologists who instead of speaking to the suffering of our ancestors would rather re-write things in order to lessen the sting for the oppressor than enlighten the oppressed.
We do our children a disservice when we choose to re-write our history instead or just teaching them our history which is in fact American History. Lift Every Voice and Sing speaks to the resilience of our people, who in spite of all the obstacles of bigotry and racism, still managed to sang songs of praise. To endure all they had to endure and still be able to sang is a testament that we should be proud of. Just read the lyrics and tell me if you don't feel a sense of pride.
Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
'Til 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 'til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening 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,
'Til 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 has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has 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.