CBS Sunday Morning reports on “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”


TODAY IS FLAG DAY. CBS News marked the occasion with a report about “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” The James Weldon Johnson poem was set to music in 1899 by Johnson’s younger brother, the composer John Rosamond Johnson. Known as the Black National Anthem, the fortifying hymn has been sung over the past century in churches and at public events of celebration and anguish. The liberation song has found renewed life among a new generation of protestors.

Americans have taken to the streets in a show of collective anger and frustration over racial injustice sparked most recently by black people being murdered on camera by police. Protestors are raising their voices in cities across the country and the song has been a uniting force in many communities, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Des Moines, Iowa, and Detroit. On U Street in Washington, D.C., hundreds of protestors joined in as a woman sang the Black National Anthem. As demonstrated by the opening lines, the lyrics are soaring and rife with metaphor:

    Lift ev’ry voice and sing
    ‘Til 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 the faith that the dark past has taught 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 ’til victory is won

She concluded the historic song by declaring “Black Lives Matter!”

On CBS This Morning, Jane Pauley reported “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was first recited in 1900 by students at the Stanton School, a segregated school in Jacksonville, Fla., and became the official song of NAACP in 1919. Born in Jacksonville, Johnson was a poet, author, lawyer, and NAACP leader. The lyrics of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” Pauley said, “speak to the African American struggle for freedom and equality.”

MANY INSTITUTIONS AND MEDIA ORGANIZATIONS have chosen this moment, the past few weeks, to shift their coverage toward African Americans, race, racism, racial justice, and black history, art, and culture.

By contrast, CBS is a rare TV network that has done a fair amount of reporting on these concerns, at least over the past several years. Recent coverage of visual artists has featured Bill Traylor, Simone Leigh, Amy Sherald, and Mark Bradford. CBS News also engaged with Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch on a number of occasions when he was serving as founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

Bunch writes about the experience in his book, A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump.”

“I alerted 60 Minutes that I planned to go to Mozambique to meet with and pay my respects to the Makhuwan descendants of those who were lost on the São José. The crew from CBS felt that this was such an important story that they would accompany me to East Africa,” he writes.


Sept. 12, 2016: Days before the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened, Lonnie Bunch gave CBS’s Gayle King and Nora O’Donnell a tour of the Smithsonian museum. | Video by CBS News


The following year, days before the museum’s Sept. 24, 2016, opening and dedication ceremony, Gayle King and Nora O’Donnell toured the museum with Bunch. Their coverage aired Sept.12 and King concluded the report with these words: “The newest Smithsonian museum is not a time capsule. It’s a place where you will be encouraged to explore current events, including the complicated conversations of race that continue today.”

CBS also talked to Deputy Director Kinshasha Holman Conwill and the museum’s architects that day. The network broadcast many other reports about the museum focusing, for example, on the artifacts donated by families from around the country and the connections of Oprah Winfrey and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to the museum.

“The newest Smithsonian museum is not a time capsule. It’s a place where you will be encouraged to explore current events, including the complicated conversations of race that continue today.” — Gayle King

The sustained coverage significantly raised the visibility of the museum. “Without a doubt, out of all the media appearances over the past decade, my interviews with 60 Minutes brought the greatest attention,” Bunch writes in “A Fool’s Errand.”

“I have been fortunate to be on that program three times. As Nicole Young, one of the show’s producers, pointed out, I have been one of the very few people to appear on that program more than twice: once to discuss the role of the enslaved in building the US Capitol; another time to explore the museum’s work on the slave ship the São José Paquete Africa; and a third time to focus on the history and creation of NMAAHC.”

He continued: “The segment that explored the efforts to create a national museum was an important marker in our campaign for visibility. This episode introduced millions of people to the museum, its mission, its current status, and, most importantly, to many of the staff who carry the weight of this effort.”

THE NETWORK’S SUNDAY MORNING PROGRAM has paid particular attention to black arts. Today the focus was on James Weldon Johnson. Earlier this year, Los Angeles-based artist Betye Saar was profiled.

In 2009, CBS covered the installation of Artis Lane‘s sculpture of Sojourner Truth at the U.S. Capitol. First Lady Michelle Obama presided over the unveiling and Lane became the first black woman to have a sculpture in the Congressional building. In 2010, the network spoke to Shirley and Bernard Kinsey about their collection of African American art and artifacts.

More recently, there was a report on artist Hank Willis Thomas and the issue of fair use in photography after he was accused a appropriating apartheid-era images by South African photographers in 2018.

Last year, the network reported on Afrofuturism and curator Denise Murrell discussed black models in modern art. Her groundbreaking exhibition, “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today,” originated at Columbia University’s Wallach Gallery and traveled to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The network’s report included artist Mickalene Thomas whose work was presented in the show.

The exhibition was inspired by Édouard Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) painting. “There are two women in that painting,” Murrell told CBS correspondent Nancy Giles. “One is white and that is what most of the art historical narrative is about, but the other is black. …What is Manet intending to say? …This material is not hidden. Just like the model, she is in plain view but she is made invisible by the lack of historical interest.” CT

A selection of recent CBS News coverage of visual artists follows:

Sept. 12, 2016: Architects Phil Freelon (1953-2019) and David Adjaye talk about the design of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, days before its opening on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “We knew that we were building something not for the next 10 years, but for the next 100 years that would represent our culture,” Freelon said. | Video by CBS News


March 31, 2019: Detroit artist Richard Phillips spent 46 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the years, he painted hundreds of watercolors. “It was something to do, occupy my mind. I could get off into one of my paintings and be in there for hours and hours,” he told CBS’s Steve Hartman. When Phillips was exonerated he turned to the only thing he knew to make a living: art. | Video by CBS This Morning


April 7, 2019: Curator Leslie Umberger spoke to CBS’s Chip Reid about “Between Worlds,” her landmark Bill Traylor retrospective featuring 155 paintings and drawings at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Traylor loved blue. It’s in a lot of the work,” she said. “It’s a brilliant body of work because it records this time and a place, but it’s more than a record. It’s this personal expression and it’s lyrical and it’s beautiful it’s incredibly moving.” | Video by CBS Sunday Morning


April 27, 2019: Working with ceramics, Simone Leigh focuses on the subjectivity of black women. In the wake of her historic selection for the Hugo Boss Prize 2018, inclusion in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and inaugural monumental sculpture on the High Line plinth, she spoke to CBS This Morning. “It’s so shocking what is happening to me,” Leigh said. “It’s pretty crazy.” | Video by CBS This Morning

FIND MORE about Simone Leigh on CBS News on Culture Type


May 12, 2019: (Requires CBS All Access) Anderson Cooper profiled Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford on 60 Minutes. The artist’s massive abstract “paintings” are composed of endless layers of paper and address a range of social issues. He often uses the demographics of separation illustrated on maps for inspiration. “I kind of start from a map and then on top of it I think I lay art history and my imagination, all three,” Bradford tells Cooper. | Video by 60 Minutes/CBS News

FIND MORE about Mark Bradford on CBS News on Culture Type


July 14, 2019: CBS Sunday Morning spoke to curator Denise Murrell and artist Mickalene Thomas about Murrell’s exhibition “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today.” About Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) painting, Murrell told correspondent Nancy Giles: “There are two women in that painting. One is white and that is what most of the art historical narrative is about, but the other is black. …What is Manet intending to say? …This material is not hidden. Just like the model, she is in plain view but she is made invisible by the lack of historical interest.” | Video by CBS Sunday Morning


Oct. 18, 2019: Known for her portraits of everyday people, Amy Sherald became well known after painting a portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. The attention brought crowds to her gallery exhibition last fall. Sherald told Sara Kugel of CBS: “The diversity of the crowd. All ages, races. It was just really great to see that kind of energy in a gallery space where you normally assume it’s kind of stuffy.” | Video by CBS Sunday Morning


Nov. 30, 2019: Leonardo Drew makes sculptures made of “weathered” materials including cotton and wood that he hand-treats in his studio. He talked to Anthony Mason of CBS. Drew said: “There’s never a moment when I am not asking, What if?” | Video by CBS This Morning


Dec. 11, 2019: CBS’s Anthony Mason spoke to artist Kehinde Wiley when his monumental sculpture “Rumors of War,” featuring a young black man in a hoodie astride a horse, was unveiled at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Va., near a boulevard of Confederate statues. The artist reflected on seeing the monuments for the first time. “I saw a spectacle that felt dreadful. It almost felt like it was designed to be menacing. To be in a black body walking through the streets of Richmond and to see something that signifies the enslavement of your people, that’s a little more heavy duty,” Wiley said. “I want my statue to be speaking back at the people looking at those statues.” | Video CBS This Morning


Feb. 23, 2020: Artist Betye Saar, 93, was profiled on CBS Sunday Morning by correspondent Serna Altschul. Saar said, “I received a few grants and I said… ‘You’re an artist Betye Saar,’ and just kept on making it.” | Video by CBS This Morning

FIND MORE about Betye Saar on CBS News on Culture Type


April 19, 2020: Artist Kadir Nelson illustrates New Yorker covers, children’s books, and portraits hanging in Washington, D.C., institutions. His latest painting “After the Storm,” was made during COVID-19 isolation. “I think it’s a crucial moment and I need to have a voice and create an image that will give people hope,” Nelson told CBS’s Lee Cowan. | Video by CBS Sunday Morning


“A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump” by Lonnie Bunch was published last year. “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” accompanied the landmark exhibition at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today” documents curator Denise Murrell’s exhibition. Another volume was published in French to coincide with the presentation of the show in Paris. “Amy Sherald” is the first book to explore the work of artist Amy Sherald. “The Obama Portraits” is about the making and meaning of the official Obama portraits painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic” was published to accompany Wiley’s 10-year retrospective. “Leonardo Drew: Journal” was released in 2017. Recent volumes documenting Mark Bradford’s work include “Mark Bradford: End Papers,” “Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge,” and “Mark Bradford” from Phaidon. Kadir Nelson won the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for the children’s book, “The Undefeated.”


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.