PBS drew furious audience feedback after the broadcaster invited celebrity Vanessa Williams to perform the “black national anthem” during its July 4 programming.
The media stunt was claimed to be part of the new so-called Juneteenth holiday but many people condemned the move as divisive and unAmerican.
“It is in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth, so we are reflective of the times,” Williams said according to the Associated Press.
The singer, who was the first African American woman to win the Miss America Pageant, defended her decision to perform as a sign of changing times.
“We are reflective of the times,” she said according to Fox News. “I am happy to be part of a tremendous show that the producers are aware, and willing to make the changes that have happened within the past year and a half.”
Williams’s rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” will not replace the U.S. national anthem, which will be sung by multi Grammy-award winner Renée Fleming. However, the performance still bitterly divided Americans on social media.
Lavern Spicer believes the performance should not proceed on Independence Day. The U.S. black Republican candidate for Florida’s 24th congressional district believes doing so might divide the country on a day when people should band together.
“Vanessa honey, a black national anthem is something a black African country would have, not a country like America that exists for everyone,” she said on Twitter.
Vanessa honey, a BLACK national anthem is something a Black African Country would have, not a country like America that exists for everyone 🇺🇸🤦🏾♀️ https://t.co/ZLt8kZLRSU— Lavern Spicer (@lavern_spicer) July 3, 2021
Jenna Ellis, a former Trump lawyer and deputy district attorney in Weld County, Colorado, expressed her displeasure by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
“We are ONE nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL,” she said on Twitter.
We are ONE Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL. https://t.co/Tlp4EisNOV— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) July 4, 2021
“We are witnessing the unraveling of E pluribus unum in real time,” former CIA officer Brian Dean Wright said, referring the traditional motto of the United States–which is Latin for “out of many, one.”
“The consequences will be dire,” Dean Wright said according to the New York Post.
Other social media critics similarly lamented PBS’s decision to broadcast two different anthems.
“I did not get the memo, we have a new anthem? And what was wrong with our original one?” one Twitter user commented according to the paper.
“What? I thought we were ALL Americans?! Now divided by color? What happened to one nation, under God, indivisible? Talk about dividing us,” another Twitter user added.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a hymn that James Weldon Johnson originally wrote as a poem in 1900. It was initially set to brother J. Rosamond Johnson’s music for the anniversary of former President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1905. It is often referred to as the black national anthem of the United States.
In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called the hymn a “Negro national anthem” for its power in voicing a cry for liberation and affirmation for African Americans.
The song is a gratitude prayer for faithfulness and freedom, with imagery mirroring the biblical exodus from slavery to the promise land. It is included in many Christian hymnals and sung in churches across North America.
Juneteenth is a commemoration of African American slave emancipation held each year on June 19 in different parts of the country. President Joe Biden declared it as a new national holiday in 2021.
This year marks the 41st anniversary of “A Capitol Fourth.” On PBS and other platforms, the show reaches millions of people as well as military all around the world.
Williams serves as host this year but it is not the first time she advocated for social change during festivities, according to the Associated Press.