Lift every voice and sing
Till 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 faith that the dark past has tought 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 till victory is won.
—Lift Every Voice and Sing (Black National Anthem). Song by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson
I love parades. A highlight of my life was when I got to drive a truck pulling a trailer of marimba players for Lafayette Days a few years back.
When I was a kid, there were two parades around our home town.
July 4 was when it was full-out, bands and waving people on flatbeds and the Shriners zipping around in their little cars.
But the big excitement for me was Memorial Day, when members of our Girl Scout troop ironed our green uniforms, polished up our shoes, and pulled on our white gloves. I felt so proud to walk along and end up at Gillson Park, where we listened to a droning stream of speakers, sang the national anthem, and saluted the American Flag.
At Girl Scout Camp, we started the day by raising the flag, and ended it with reverentially lowering it. I can still feel the cloth tightening in my hands as I had the honor of being part of the color guard, somberly straightening the cloth of the flag and carefully folding it, first lengthwise, then in tight triangles, finally marching away to carefully place it in its sacred place til the morning.
The shock for me of seeing the terrorists storm our capital wasn’t the man with the Confederate flag.
It was watching the dozens, hundreds? of American flags raised and fluttering and inspiring people to violence. It was facing what the flag has symbolized all along: not unity, one from many, but a few flaunting their force over many more.
After the election of 2016, I sat in a circle with a trusted group, trying to understand the results. How could this man, who celebrated misogyny and racism and pure contempt for others, now be in charge of my beloved country? It must be an anomaly, a sickness that had taken over. I was sitting next to my friend Merry, who is Black, and asked her how this could have happened. She didn’t exactly snort, but one corner of her mouth turned up knowingly as she sat back.
“For the people I know, he’s no different from any other president we’ve ever had. And Clinton wouldn’t have been much better.”
I slumped against my backjack and chewed on that. What in the world was she talking about? This was my country, the land of the free, stirring John Phillips Sousa marches, and the kind of patriotic fervor that raised goosebumps whenever I stood up and sang with my fellow Americans.
It’s taken me much of these past four years, but thanks to our outgoing president and the starkness of White Supremacists, I’ve had plenty of time to understand what Merry meant.
My fear motivated me to finally face at least some of what our country–and our flag–has stood for since our origins. Creating wealth off the backs, bodies and souls of others. Enslaving other humans, ripping families apart for financial gain, for power. Four centuries of menacing, intimidation, murder, brutality, torture.
I am grateful to see, to have had a four year curriculum in the deadly origins of our country. It’s just a beginning for me, I know, as that’s been my privilege, to be ignorant. But my ignorance has cracked open, so that I can stare into the face of this sickness that our country was founded on.
I think about those Capitol police who stood strong against so much hatred and vitriol, who fought for hours to push back this violent mass of humanity so set on proving its superiority, to sneeringly take another stand for Power Over and might making right. I pray my gratitude to them that, even when their lives were at stake, they somehow kept their guns in their holsters. How did they do that?? Their strength, their faith, their stark bravery kept that spark from igniting who knows what sort of civil mayhem.
And I see the brilliance of the light against the shrinking of the darkness.
But I don’t want to sing the Star-Spangled Banner anymore, about a flag that stayed flying above a battlefield.
It’s time for a new anthem, one that celebrates all voices.
I’m ready to let our rejoicing rise. We did it, together, we moved another step towards peering into the heart of darkness, but choosing the light. That flag I can once again salute.
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the day that hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place on witch 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, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our star is cast.
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 frm the places, our God, where we met thee,
Least our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
Shadowed beneath the hand,
May we forever stand,
Tru to our God,
Tru to our native land.