Howard Cheerleaders Add Voices to the Anthem Debate by Taking a Knee

The cheerleaders’ gesture, which began in September 2016 shortly after Kaepernick’s protest gained notice, is not the only distinguishing mark in Howard’s pregame program. For decades, at home games the anthem has been paired with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the turn-of-the-century hymn that has become known as the black national anthem.

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Alex Jones, left, and Sydney Stallworth, the cheerleading captains, raised their fists during the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known as the black national anthem. “I think about liberty and justice for all, and how it’s not being executed in our country right now,” Stallworth said.

Credit
Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

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Members of Howard’s R.O.T.C. rolling up the flag after the national anthem.

Credit
Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

The “Lift Every Voice” tradition at Howard games goes back at least to the 1980s, according to Howard’s former sports information director, Edward Hill Jr. And the song’s informal stature as the black national anthem predates the codification of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem in 1931, said Imani Perry, a Princeton professor whose book on “Lift Every Voice” is due out next year.

During “Lift Every Voice,” which on Saturday was played immediately before the national anthem, the Howard cheerleaders, the band’s dancers and some spectators in the crowd of several hundred raised their arms in the Black Power salute. Then, with a flourish, the cheerleaders, one at a time down the line, switched from raised fist to bent knee, like a row of falling dominoes.

There was no booing from the crowd, as there has been at several N.F.L. stadiums where…

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