Four NBA teams celebrated Black History Month by playing what is referred to as the "Negro national anthem." Prompted by retired Howard University professor Eugene Williams, who has been urging sports teams to play "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Oklahoma City Thunder played it in January, followed by the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in February.
Williams attended the Warriors-Wizards game on February 28, stating, "I had no idea it would amount to all of this.” Williams is urging universities to include the song during games; it has already been played at Georgetown University games.
Williams said, "My mission will be completed if it's done in stadiums all over the United States of America. 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."
The author of the lyrics to the song was James Weldon Johnson; his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, wrote the music for the Stanton School celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1900, at which it was used to introduce educator Booker T. Washington, who was visiting the all-black school at the time. 500 black children sang the song.
In 1919, the NAACP adopted the song as its official “Negro national anthem.” The song later became an anthem for the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Williams concluded, "For me it was the fight song. When I was a kid we had to learn it, we had to sing it, we performed it at athletic events, at church events. It has always stuck with me as something that gave me strength, gave me power, and I feel personally for those people who know it, that anthem does the same thing for them."