Back when the TV channels would sign off at midnight or later, they would always play the National Anthem, followed by a test pattern. While I remember it mostly being an instrumental version played by a marching band or an orchestra, a two-verse version with a woman singing it accompanied by an acoustic guitar was also popular.
As I came to find out, she was singing verse 4 in addition to the familiar first verse. In the ensuing years, I would occasionally find it in music books, but with only three of the four verses, verse 1, 2, and 4. It took San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting during the pre-game playing of the National Anthem on August 26 for me to be reminded of verse 3.
As the news reported Kaepernick’s actions and the social media filled with people’s opinions on it, various articles came out justifying the actions of the quarterback, the son of an African-American father and a white mother, on the grounds that the Star Spangled Banner was pro-slavery, and therefore, racist.
That Monday, the headline of a New York Post article by Shaun King proclaimed, “Why I’ll never stand again for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ ”
But before I refute the claims of racism, a refresher course in National Anthem history is in order. The History Channel website sums it up succinctly:
“On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key composed the lyrics to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ after witnessing the massive overnight British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Maryland during the War of 1812. Key, an American lawyer, watched the siege while under detainment on a British ship and penned the famous words after observing with awe that Fort McHenry’s flag survived the 1,800-bomb assault.
“After circulating as a handbill, the patriotic lyrics were published in a Baltimore newspaper on September 20, 1814. Key’s words were later set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a popular English song.
“Throughout the 19th century, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was regarded as the national anthem by most branches of the U.S. armed forces and other groups, but it was not until 1916, and the signing of an executive order by President Woodrow Wilson, that it was formally designated as such. In March 1931, Congress passed an act confirming Wilson’s presidential order, and on March 3 President Hoover signed it into law.
Shaun King and others, determined to make the song racist, base their accusations on two lines, 19 words, out of the four verses. Verse 4 concludes:
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
“From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
“And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
According to Shaun King, the first two lines quoted indicate that “the song itself was rooted in the celebration of slavery and the murder of Africans in America.”
But Carly Hoilman, with Conservative Review gave us this explanation a little later on Monday, August 30, 2016.
“There’s just one problem: These lyrics are describing slaves, who were, as King conveniently points out, hired by the British. This song is not about killing black slaves. It’s about fighting the enemy, be he a decorated British officer or the escaped slave hired to do his dirty work.
“Shaun King and his allies might be surprised to learn that Francis Scott Key, a DC lawyer, was initially against the United States’ entry into the War of 1812.
“According to History.com, ‘Key referred to the war as ‘abominable’ and ‘a lump of wickedness.’ However, his opposition to the war softened after the British began to raid nearby Chesapeake Bay communities in 1813 and 1814, and he briefly served in a Georgetown wartime militia.’
Some defend against the accusation that the song is racist and that Key supposedly “openly celebrates the murder of slaves” by saying that “slaves” was referring to sailors impressed into service by the British. But the verse is speaking of enemy soldiers, referring to the Colonial Marines, the escaped slaves fighting for the British on the promise of their freedom.
One other point here, the British had abolished slave trade by this time, but they didn’t abolish slavery until 1833. The British weren’t fighting us because they were abolitionists. In the same way they could rely on mercenaries to do their fighting, such as the German Hessians during the American Revolution, they found they could also count on escaped slaves to fight for them.
“What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life” by Marc Leepson, describes Key’s “advocacy for African Americans”:
“Known as Frank, Key was one of the first lawyers to make a career in Washington by segueing between his law practice and politics. He was a confidant of President Andrew Jackson, who appointed him U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Key was a superb lawyer with an ingratiating manner that made him popular. He appeared before the Supreme Court often, always acquitting himself well. He, his wife and their 11 children moved back and forth from their Maryland farm to Washington, where he maintained his law office.
“Key was intensely religious and at one point considered entering the ministry. He broke away from St. John’s Church because he did not believe it did enough for the poor. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Key’s character was his advocacy for African Americans, whose cases he accepted free of charge. Many of them involved free blacks who were hijacked into slavery, as depicted in the film ‘Twelve Years a Slave.’ He won many of those cases.”
A few more paragraphs about Key’s life, help show that Key was just the opposite of the racist slave hater he is described as by Black Lives Matter propagandist Shaun King and others.
“Like Jefferson – who owned several hundred slaves – Francis Scott Key’s record on slavery is mixed. While Key freed a few of his slaves, he did not free them all. Soon after he set up legal shop in Georgetown, Francis Scott Key began representing slaves and freed African Americans in legal disputes, including civil actions in which slaves petitioned for their freedom.
“On the other hand, Key also represented slave owners in legal fights to retain their runaway human property. In 1812, for example, Key defended Hezekiah Wood, whose slaves, John Davis and his siblings, had sued for their freedom because their mother, Susan Davis, had won her freedom because her mother was a free white woman born in England. The Supreme Court ruled in Key’s client’s favour.
“Still, Francis Scott Key had a deserved reputation as someone who spoke out against the evils of slavery and offered his legal services gratis to slaves and former slaves. A newspaper editorial published after his death noted that Key had been an early opponent of slavery: ‘So actively hostile was he to the peculiar institution that he was called ‘The N——Lawyer’…because he often volunteered to defend the downtrodden sons and daughters of Africa. Mr. Key convinced me that slavery was wrong – radically wrong.’ ”