The American national anthem contains language that is said to celebrate the killing of slaves fighting for their freedom, according to research inspired by the attention Colin Kaepernick has drawn for taking a knee during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In the wake of the recent police shootings of Blacks, the San Francisco 49er’s reserve quarterback said he is protesting the treatment of minorities in the United States.
Kaepernick, who is mixed race, said he would stand for the national anthem once there are improvements.
However, others researching “The Star-Spangled Banner” are considering not standing for it for their own reasons.
Tamalpais High football player Tre’Chaun Berkley, an 18-year-old Black man from Marin City, found “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written by “slave-owner Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812.” It has “three unpopular verses that go unsung before games, the third lambasting Blacks for aligning with the British in an attempt to cease American slavery,” wrote journalist Danny Schmidt in the Marin Independent Journal.
According to the Maryland Historical Society, the relevant part of the third stanza Schmidt referred to goes like this:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
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 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 wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814, while slavery was still going on. At the time, the British offered freedom to slaves who fought with their army against America. The Black recruits formed the Colonial Marines, whom people like Keys viewed as traitors, according to a CNN article written by AJ Willingham.
Keys, who owned slaves himself, was an anti-abolitionist and once called Blacks “a distinct and inferior race of people,” according to Willingham.
In 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became America’s national anthem, minus the last three stanzas. It was the subject of controversy for years, but died down before being brought to light again by recent events.
In 1968, Olympic runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised Black power salutes as a protest to the treatment of Blacks during the singing of the national anthem at their medal ceremony in Mexico City.
In 1972, baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson wrote, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a Black man in a White world” in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made.
Kaepernick’s protest has renewed debate about whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” should continue to represent Americans.
“That third stanza depicted the intentions of the government to keep the slaves in bondage and that there was no escape,” said San Quentin resident James Metters, a Black man. “Factual evidence of such conjecture is found in the slaves’ defection to Britain to fight on their side. However, the third stanza has been omitted, which shows the change that has happened in our nation concerning slavery; the part we sing is all good.”
White inmate Wayne Boatwright said, “Our national anthem has defined generations of service to the project known as the United States of America. I believe it has suited us well so far; there is no reason to change.”
James King, another incarcerated Black man, disagrees. “It is not representing all of the people. It’s cut from the same cloth as the Confederate flag. Just as the flag had to go, so should the anthem.”
King suggests holding a contest for the best writers to submit a new national anthem. Others suggest “America the Beautiful,” popularized in a recording by Ray Charles.