“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics come from a poem titled “Defense of Fort M’Henry” written by Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814, while he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Key was a 35-year-old lawyer who went to a British ship sitting in Baltimore Harbor to arrange for the release of his client. The British would not allow him to leave the ship until the next day, so he watched the bombardment from the deck of the ship.
Key’s poem was inspired by the flag flying over Fort McHenry. Known as the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag measured 42 feet long and 30 feet wide and contained 15 stars and 15 stripes. The original flag resides in Smithsonian’s’ National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The tune for “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith and well-known in America.
The U.S. Navy adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” for official use in 1889. President Woodrow Wilson adopted it for official use in 1916. It became the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931, which was signed by President Herbert Hoover. Prior to 1931, other songs – such as “Hail, Columbia,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful” – served as official hymns for the United States.
Now there are factions within the United States who claim that the American national anthem is racist and should be replaced. One of the reasons why people do not like the national anthem is that it is difficult to sing with its range of 19 semitones. Some dislike it because they misunderstand the meaning of some of the words.
Even though “The Star-Spangled Banner” has four stanzas, the first one is commonly sung, while the others are usually unknown. The third stanza is one that some people consider racist. “No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” There is no evidence that Key was writing about slaves when he wrote his poem. According to this video, “hirelings and slaves” was a commonly used phrase in both America and Great Britain at the time that was used to put down anyone – such as the British navy. Besides, Key was writing a poem, and “slave” rhymes with “grave.”
We should remember that most Americans know only the first stanza of the national anthem. In fact, so few Americans know all four verses that knowledge of the national anthem was used during World War II as a test for spies. If the suspected spy knew only the first stanza, he was assumed to be an American.
According to Thomas Catenacci at The Daily Signal, Los Angeles Times contributor Jody Rosen is one of the people calling for a change of our national anthem. He suggests that we adopt “Lean on Me” for a new national anthem.
If the point of a national anthem is to provide a mnemonic, a reminder in music and words of the ideas and values that this place is supposed to stand for, you could do worse than “Lean on Me” ….
… It’s a message you could build something on, a pretty solid foundation for a decent society. It can bear the load….
[Rosen wrote that the anthem is “charmless and difficult to sing,” even poorly composed.]
A song with words few people understands, which fewer can sing, whose sound and spirit bear no relation to our catchy, witty, unpretentious homegrown musical forms.
It sounds to me that Rosen is one of the people who are trying to erase the history of the United States. It is not enough that statues and monuments – even one for Francis Scott Key -- are pulled down. They want to have a new national anthem.
According to Jarrett Stepman at The Daily Signal, California’s NAACP has “a campaign to remove the ‘The Star-Spangled Banner” as America’s national anthem because it is ‘one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon.’” This organization supports the movement of sports stars, such as Colin Kaepernick, for kneeling for the national anthem before games. Even though many sports stars, entertainers, politicians, and others consider this behavior as acceptable, most Americans do not support any type of disrespect for the flag or the anthem.
To the majority of Americans, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a moving tribute to what the country represents: freedom, duty, bravery, and commitment to the men and women serving in the armed forces. Clearly, Kaepernick – who [once made] millions of dollars playing the game he loves – has a different view of what the over two-century-old song represents.
It appears that more famous Blacks than Kaepernick have different viewpoints. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. made his legendary march in Selma carrying the American flag and chose to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the state courthouse. The famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave and hated the institution. “He understood the evils of the system would be corrected by embracing the country’s origins rather than rejecting them. He encouraged black Americans to sign up and fight for the Union under the American flag during the Civil War, played a crucial role in recruitment efforts, and convinced many former slaves to serve in the military and embrace the United States as the vessel – not the thwarter – of freedom.” He even played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his violin for his grandchildren.
Rashad Jennings, a black athlete playing for the NFL’s New York Giants, sounds a lot like Douglas in supporting the flag and the anthem. “It’s nice to know that we live in a country where sitting down during the anthem won’t land you in jail or worse.” He proudly stands for the anthem and explained why: “I figure if it was the intention of our Founding Fathers to keep America a nation of slaves, then it wouldn’t have chosen a song where all four verses end with ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ instead of ‘land of the free, home of the slave.’”
The rioters tearing down statues and monuments – as well as sports stars, entertainers, and organizations who are campaigning to change the anthem – show their ignorance about the history of the nation by their attempts to change it. There is no proof that Francis Scott Key was racist when writing the anthem, and the mobs tore down statues of people who fought against slavery. The current situation in our nation shows the importance of teaching civics and American history to the rising generation. A correct understanding of the history of the United States and how the government is supposed to work will bring stability to our nation.