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Boris says Swing Low Sweet Chariot shouldn’t be banned because ‘no one knows the words’

Boris Johnson has declared the Swing Low Sweet Chariot song should not be banned ‘because no one knows the words’.

The Prime Minister admitted he did not know all the lyrics to the rugby anthem, and called for those complaining about it to explain what they were.

Instead he called for people to stop focusing on ‘symbols of discrimination’ and look instead at the wider picture of racial equality.

He said: ‘Nobody as far as I understand it seems to know the words. Before we start complaining about Swing Low Sweet Chariot I’d like to know what the rest of the words are… “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home”, then it all dies out.

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‘How does it go on? I certainly don’t think there should be any sort of prohibition on singing that.’

Speaking to Sky News, he pledged to do anything he could to make sure BLM campaigners were heard and listened to.

Her added: ‘What people need to do is focus less on the symbols of discrimination – all these issues that people are now raising to do with statues and songs and so on – I can see why they are very emotive.

‘But what I want to focus on is the substance of the issue.

Picture of Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has waded in on the Swing Low Sweet Chariot row, saying it shouldn’t be banned (Picture: PA)

‘Yes of course I see that Black Lives Matter. We are going to address all the issues that we can…

‘We should be talking about success and the fact that young black kids are now doing far far better in some of the toughest subjects in schools.’

It comes after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) confirmed on Thursday it is reviewing the ‘historical context’ of the song and will educate fans to make ‘informed decisions’.

It is believed that ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ was written by a Wallace Willis, a black slave, in 1865.

The song was also widely used by the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s.

England v Wales 2019
Swing Low Sweet Chariot is a popular song regularly sung at Twickenham (Picture: The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

The song is believed to have been first used by rugby fans when Martin Offiah was playing at the Middlesex Sevens tournament at Twickenham in 1987.

The following year, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ was sung again towards Chris Oti after he scored a hat trick in England’s win against Ireland.

The song is now regularly sung by England rugby supporters at games and was heard frequently during the World Cup in Japan last year.

A spokesperson for the RFU said: ‘The Swing Low, Sweet Chariot song has long been part of the culture of rugby and is sung by many who have no awareness of its origins or its sensitivities.

‘We are reviewing its historical context and our role in educating fans to make informed decisions.’

And the prospect of fans being told that the song can no longer be sung is now being considered.

But the former head of the commission for racial equality has described banning the song as ‘black people’s own culture being cancelled’.

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Trevor Phillips, 66, condemned the RFU for reviewing the popular sporting song, and pointed out the last people to try and ban it were Hitler and the Nazis back in 1939.

Mr Phillips, who is a passionate free speech campaigner and current chair of Index on Censorship, said the song had been written by a freed slave. 

He wrote: ‘So “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, celebrating the Underground Railway, written AFTER the Civil War by a freed slave, made popular by the African American Fisk Jubilee Singers, sung at many black funerals and civil rights demonstrations, honoured by Congress, now to be banned.

‘So black people’s own culture is also now to be cancelled. Please everyone, take a breath before you eliminate black lives from history. 

‘This is a proposal being considered by the game’s official governing body, the Rugby Football Union.’

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