A compromise calls for racial words and dialect to be changed. Here are Stephen Foster's original lyrics:
Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.
All de world am sad and dreary,
Ebry where I roam,
Oh! darkeys, how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home.
All round de little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Den many happy days I squandered,
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brudder
Happy was I
Oh! take me to my kind old mudder,
Dere let me live and die.
One little hut among de bushes,
One dat I love,
Still sadly to my mem'ry rushes,
No matter where I rove
When will I see de bees a humming
All round de comb
When will I hear de banjo tumming
Down in my good old home?
TALLAHASSEE — How about a state song and a state anthem?
Under pressure from some Florida lawmakers, Jacksonville Sen. Tony Hill said Thursday he will compromise on his bid to do away with a state song that contains racial lyrics.
Swanee River (Old Folks at Home) would remain the state song, but the chorus that refers to "darkeys" longing for "de old plantation" would be changed to "dear ones" longing for "my childhood's station," Hill said. The compromise would also remove the song's dialect, which the author said was that of a black slave.
Florida (Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky), chosen from a statewide contest last year, would become the state's official anthem, under a proposal expected to reach the Senate floor next week.
"We realize the environment we're in," said Hill, Democratic leader of the black legislative caucus. "A few years ago, we wouldn't have even gotten this far. It would have just been talk in the halls."
The state anthem idea comes courtesy of veteran Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who joins some rural lawmakers and Floridians who favor keeping Old Folks at Home.
Hill's original proposal (SB1558) to make Sawgrass the official state song faced a likely death in King's Senate committee, even though Gov. Charlie Crist is so opposed to Old Folks at Home that he refused to play it at his 2007 inauguration.
In the House, a similar proposal by Temple Terrace Republican Ed Homan is on hold as lawmakers there await the Senate bill's fate.
House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, said he understands the concerns people have about the state song's lyrics. But he did caution lawmakers against losing focus "on what's truly important — making Florida affordable again and getting our economy back on track.
"This has the potential of turning into the American Idol-ization of Florida politics."
But the song debate comes during a legislative session in which race and race relations have played prominently. The Legislature last month made history by formally apologizing for the state's history of slavery.
On the first day of session, House Speaker Marco Rubio told lawmakers he wants to address "the tragic tale of what is happening to young African-American males."
King said the state anthem-state song combination preserves history while looking forward and addressing the concerns of black lawmakers, residents and the governor.
"It rewards those who participated in the state contest," King said. "And you quell the outrage of people who say Swanee is our song and let's keep it. I don't think there's any reason to be offended with that song once we change the lyrics."
Lawmakers in 1935 passed a resolution — not a law — designating Old Folks at Home as the state song. Hill proposes putting the song with the new lyrics into statute, cementing its place in history.
Stephen Foster, who was white, wrote Old Folks at Home in 1851 for a minstrel show. He penned it in a dialect that was supposed to be the voice of a black slave.
Supporters of Foster's song say "darkeys" is not used in modern-day performances of the song. But the latest Florida Handbook still includes the original version of the song, with the offending lyrics.
Florida will be the second state to amend an adopted Foster song. In 1986, the Kentucky General Assembly amended My Old Kentucky Home, to remove offensive lyrics.
Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.