Super Bowl 57 provided a number of poignant moments. For the first time in the one-hundred-three year history of the National Football League the two opposing quarterbacks in the championship game were African-American athletes. Prelude to this historic match-up were several songs that honored America and Americans. The National Anthem of the United States was performed by Chris Stapleton and during its conclusion four US Naval women aviators passed overhead in F-16 aircraft. Its lyrics are familiar to us all as we hear them frequently but just prior to the anthem we heard “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” whose words are less familiar and offered a contrast and tribute to our sixteenth President Abraham Lincoln.
James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a powerful tribute to Abraham Lincoln and a celebration of the United States of America. The song is full of hopefulness and optimism, and is a reminder of the promise of the nation. In contrast, Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” is a poignant depiction of the aerial bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Key’s poem captures the emotion of the moment, and serves as a reminder of the courage and resilience of the nation. Both songs honor the United States of America and their authors, James Weldon Johnson and Francis Scott Key, represent two very different eras of American history. While Johnson was a 20th century civil rights activist, Key was a 19th century lawyer, amateur poet and slaveholder. Despite their differences, both songs give us a glimpse into the history, struggles, and triumphs of America.