Did You Know The Word “Slave” Was In The National Anthem?
If you ever attended a sporting event in America, you have witnessed a sea of patriotic folks placing their right hand over their hearts as someone proudly sings the Star Spangled Banner to honor their country. Unfortunately, for Black Americans, participating in this ritual can produce conflicting emotions given the racist history of the national anthem.
On one hand, many of us want to feel connected to the place we live everyday. In practice, that can mean saluting the flag, saying the pledge of allegiance, respecting the president, and singing the national anthem. On the other hand, this nation once prided itself on our ancestors’ slave labor and continues to show a lack of concern for Black lives.
In 1814, Francis Scott Key penned the Star Spangled Banner as a poem 117 years before it became the national anthem. According to The Root, “it is one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-Black songs in the American lexicon” because Key supported slavery, believed Blacks were mentally inferior, and captured his sentiments in the “lost stanza” of his poem.
Below are lines that openly celebrate the murder of enslaved Blacks from Key’s poem that were conveniently left out of the national anthem:
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
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.
Key’s underhanded remarks show his disdain for Blacks fighting for their own freedom and poignantly expresses that enslaved Blacks were destined for the grave. Key and other white men believed that Black soldiers were a threat to their perceived white superiority.
Colin Kaepernick and other Black athletes have taken a stand against modern-day injustices by kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality and inequality in America. This has also brought renewed attention to the song’s lyrics and Key’s racist background.
As a reminder, James Weldon Johnson wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900 as a way for African-Americans to display patriotism while remaining focused on Black liberation. Perhaps, it is time to return to singing an anthem that was made “for us and by us.”
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