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Every American is acquainted with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Some might even be able to sing that or in ~ least gain through “O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light….”

On march 3, 1931, chairman Herbert Hoover signed the legislation that would officially point out “The Star-Spangled Banner” as America’s nationwide Anthem. Not everyone to be a fan of the tune at the time and also today many believe it includes racist overtones.

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Origin of the Anthem

By now, the story of the song’s beginnings is commonly known. Francis Scott Key, one American lawyer and also amateur poet, wrote the poem that would end up being the anthem after the battle of Baltimore throughout the battle of 1812. On September 13, 1814, an essential was plank the British delivery HMS Tonnant negotiating a sinner release. After ~ negotiations to be concluded he to be not enabled to leave due to the fact that the British feared he would damage their position.

Forced to spend the night board an foe ship, vital watched and also heard the bombing of fort McHenry. At dawn the following day, an essential saw the American flag still being flown over fort McHenry, which expected that the British had not captured it and also the fight of Baltimore had been winner by the unified States. Motivated by what the saw, an essential wrote the poem “Defence of ft McHenry,” which came to be known together “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The poem would be set to a well-known melody in ~ the time, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British drinking song.

Road come Adoption

Beginning in 1890, the U.S. Army and also Navy supplied “The Star-Spangled Banner” together their main anthem, but it was not popular on a nationwide scale. It no until roughly 1910 that part members of conference started introducing resolutions or legislation to make the tune the official nationwide Anthem that the united States. Over the next 20 years, congress considered an ext than 40 bills concerning the anthem, every one of which walk nowhere.

In his book, Flag: one American Biography, historian Marc Leepson writes: “The law did not succeed for number of reasons. First, some thought that it was inappropriate for the country to adopt as its national Anthem a song obtained from an English drinking tune—especially after January 19, 1920, as soon as Prohibition went into effect. Others objected come ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ due to the fact that the music was not composed by one American. An additional objection had actually to execute with the an obstacle of to sing the tune, which has actually a an extremely wide variety of notes. There also were debates that Key’s words to be directed in ~ a armed forces enemy, good Britain, that had become a nearby American ally.”

According come Leepson’s book, Clyde R. Miller, an administrator in ~ Columbia University’s teacher College, claimed in 1930, “’The Star-Spangled Banner’ says that patriotism is associated with killing and also being killed, with great noise and also clamor, through intense hatreds and fury and also violence. Patriotism may on an extremely rare occasions involve every one of these, yet not everyday life.”

During those 20 years, other patriotic songs, such together “Yankee Doodle” and “America the Beautiful” had actually been argued as options to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In the end, lobbying efforts by the American Legion and the Veterans of foreign Wars prevailed.

Racist Overtones

Of every the objections raised around establishing “The Star-Spangled Banner” together the country’s national anthem, no one were because of the overtones the racism contained in the song. The anthem has four verses, despite it is only the an initial verse that is sung. The 3rd verse, numerous historians agree, is racist. Here’s the stanza:

And whereby is that band who so vauntingly swore,That the destruction of war and also the battle’s confusionA home and also a country should leave united state no more?Their blood has actually wash’d the end their foul footstep’s pollution.No refuge could save the hireling and slaveFrom the terror of flight or the gloom that the grave,And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth waveO’er the floor of the free and the house of the brave.

For context, we have to examine Francis Scott crucial himself, that was a slaveholder indigenous Maryland. Throughout his legal career, key represented in court several slaves seeking freedom, but also represented slaveholders search the return of your runaway slaves. His racism views, however, dominated. He referred to as African american “a distinct and also inferior race of people, i beg your pardon all suffer proves to be the greatest evil the afflicts a community.”

Key was a establishing member of the American colonization Society, an company whose major goal was to send totally free African american (not slaves) earlier to Africa. As soon as the organization’s plan shifted toward the abolition the slavery, he was removed from the board, together he was a staunch critic of the abolitionist movement and used his position as U.S. Attorney to suppress it.

In 1836, crucial prosecuted Dr. Reuben Crandall because that “seditious libel.” The doctor’s crime to be possessing a trunk full of abolitionist pamphlets. An essential felt the the abolitionist movement was so dangerous the he seek the death penalty in the case. In his closeup of the door statement to the jury, key said: “Are you ready gentlemen, to abandon your country, to allow it to be taken from you, and also occupied through the abolitionist, according to whose taste the is come associate and also amalgamate v the negro? Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, space there regulations in this neighborhood to protect you indigenous the immediate abolitionist, who would open up upon girlfriend the floodgates of such substantial wickedness and also mischief?”

Dr. Crandall was acquitted.

What Does it Mean?

In particular, it is 3 lines v which countless take issue: “Their blood has wash’d the end their foul footstep’s pollution/No refuge might save the hireling and also slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom that the grave.” however what perform they mean?

The brothers military actively recruited American slaves during the war of 1812, and the Revolutionary War, promise them their flexibility if they fought on the side of the British, historian Marc Leepson explained in an illustration on the Civics 101 podcast.

During the war of 1812, over there were two regiments, dubbed the Corps of colonial Marines, which were consisted of of American slaves. Among those regiments fought in the battle of Baltimore. In total, over there were about 6,000 servants that fought on the next of the British. As soon as the battle was over the U.S. Federal government demanded the return that the slaves as American “property.” great Britain refused and many that the former slaves settled in Canada.

Leepson stated most historians agree those lines refer to slaves that fought on the side of the British. Some historians go further and say that an essential was express satisfaction or reveling in the death of servants who had freed themselves. Rather think the meaning is no known since there is no written document of an essential indicating what he supposed by those lines.

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Replacing the Anthem

In November 2017, the California chapter of the NAACP started a campaign to change the anthem, calling that “one the the many racist, pro-slavery, anti-black song in the American lexicon.” The company wrote a resolution to rescind “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the nationwide anthem. As of January 2018, it was still seeking support for its efforts in the California Legislature.

“The track is wrong,” California NAACP thing president Alice Huffman called CBS News. “It need to never have been there, and just favor we didn’t have it till 1931, it won’t kill us if it goes away.”

Christopher Wilson, a director at the Smithsonian’s national Museum of American History, composed in a piece for Smithsonian.com, “’All men are produced Equal’ and also ‘The soil of the Free’—both those mottos sprang from the pen of males with fairly narrow see of equality and freedom.”

In the piece, Wilson debated the paradox of thomas Jefferson composing the explanation of freedom while owning 175 slaves and also makes comparisons to Key, who seems to have gained a happen on his racism. Despite Wilson does point out that throughout his lifetime, abolitionists ridiculed Key’s words, “sneering the America to be truly the ‘Land that the free and residence of the Oppressed.”

According to Wilson, in 1856 Lincoln urged americans to “re-adopt the statements of Independence and with the the practices and also policies i m sorry harmonize v it.”

“Though us may have forgotten Key’s racism while us remember Jefferson’s, we have an in similar way washed it far from the tune by adopting it together something come live up to. Every time Jackie Robinson stood on the baselines as the anthem to be played, or when Civil Rights movement activists had the flag ripped the end of their hands as they peacefully marched, or once my dad saluted the flag at a segregated army base in Alabama fighting because that a country that didn’t respect him, the song came to be less Key’s and much more ours,” Wilson wrote. “Though we must remember the flaws and also failings that often animate ours history, come me at least, they perform not require to define it. We have to remember that if, 200 years after that was claimed so by a slaveholder and enemy of cost-free speech, the United states is ‘the floor of the free,’ the is since of ‘the brave’ who have dubbed it home because dawn’s beforehand light in September 1814.”

Discussion Questions1. What brand-new information did you learn around “The Star Spangled Banner?”2. Historically, there have actually been traditional American songs, poems, salutes and also books that have actually either to be protested or banned outright. What space some examples of this?3. What execute you think about protesting historically American content? can American history be much more important than the contents of a song, poem, salute or book? Why or why not?4. Execute the racist overtones in the third stanza that the nationwide Anthem justification replacing it through a various song? Why or Why not?5. If the anthem to be to it is in replaced, i m sorry patriotic song would friend choose? Why?