In a new piece Yahoo Music, Editor in Chief Lyndsey Parker writes “Why it might be time to finally replace ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ with a new national anthem.”
Megyn Kelly noticed the piece and tweeted “And… there goes the national anthem…”
And… there goes the national anthem… https://t.co/Jd6CH5GQGJ
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) June 25, 2020
In her piece, Parker writes:
In an increasingly anti-racist era when problematic iconography — ranging from Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben to even the Dukes of Hazzard General Lee car and country band Lady Antebellum’s name — is being reassessed, revised or retired, America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” seems to be striking a wrong note.
Last week, protesters in San Francisco toppled a statue of the song’s composer, Francis Scott Key, a known slaveholder who once said that African Americans were “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” This week, Liana Morales, an Afro-Latinx student at New York’s Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts, refused to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at her virtual graduation ceremony, explaining to the Wall Street Journal, “With everything that’s happening, if I stand there and sing it, I’m being complicit to a system that has oppressed people of color.” Instead, Morales performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn widely considered to be the “Black national anthem.”
So, is it time for this country to dispense with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and adopt a new anthem with a less troubling history and a more inclusive message? Historian and scholar Daniel E. Walker, the author of No More, No More: Slavery and Cultural Resistance in Havana and New Orleans and producer of the documentary How Sweet the Sound: Gospel in Los Angeles, says yes.
“The 53-year-old in me says, we can’t change things that have existed forever. But then there are these young people who say that America needs to live up to its real creed,” Walker tells Yahoo Entertainment. “And so, I do side with the people who say that we should rethink this as the national anthem, because this is about the deep-seated legacy of slavery and white supremacy in America, where we do things over and over and over again that are a slap in the face of people of color and women. We do it first because we knew what we were doing and we wanted to be sexist and racist. And now we do it under the guise of ‘legacy.’”
Activist and journalist Kevin Powell, author of the new book When We Free the World, says it’s important to understand the song’s racist legacy, starting with Key’s bigoted background.
“‘The Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, who was literally born into a wealthy, slave-holding family in Maryland,” explains Powell. “He was a very well-to-do lawyer in Washington, D.C., and eventually became very close to President Andrew Jackson, who was the Donald Trump of his time, which means that there was a lot of hate and violence and division. At that time, there were attacks on Native Americans and Black folks — both free Black folks and folks who were slaves — and Francis Scott Key was very much a part of that. He was also the brother-in-law of someone who became a Supreme Court justice, Roger Taney, who also had a very hardcore policy around slavery. And so, all of that is problematic. And the fact that Key, when he was a lawyer, also prosecuted abolitionists, both white and Black folks who wanted slavery to end, says that this is someone who really did not believe in freedom for all people. And yet, we celebrate him with this national anthem, every time we sing it.”
“Francis Scott Key, he was a big-time guy in terms of the American colonization of society,” adds Walker. “This was not just a person who just lived in the time period. This is a person who helped define the time period.”
In fact “The Star-Spangled Banner,” based on a poem Key wrote about his eyewitness account of the War of 1812, originally featured a little-heard third stanza that was blatantly racist: “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.” While that version of the song is rarely performed today, Powell has been aware of it for years, and, like Morales, has therefore refused to sing the anthem since he was in high school in the 1980s, when he first learned of its history.
“I grew up in hip-hop,” says Powell, who used to write for Vibe magazine, “and I remember how people would criticize hip-hop for being violent. Yet ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is riddled with violence. How are you criticizing a rap song for being violent, but when we get to kindergarten, we are literally teaching children violence through song? I said, ‘I can’t participate anymore.’ So I stopped a long time ago.’”
While Powell may have known about the national anthem’s problematic background at quite a young age, Walker understands that many people have only recently become aware of Key’s abolitionism or his song’s horrific third stanza.
“People just don’t know history, and everybody’s guilty of this. I mean, if I wasn’t a historian, I wouldn’t know these things. And it took getting a PhD to learn certain things! And I am still learning things every day,” says Walker. “There are students of mine, who are white, who say to me, ‘I’m so upset that I got sugarcoated history my whole life. I feel cheated. And once I found this out, then I don’t want to have a part in it.’ Those are the people you see in these rallies. They’re saying that they want to live in a world where those vestiges are gone because they have no reason to be here. And that we need to be about redemption in a society — that if we have wronged someone, we can go back and do our best to fix that. And this one is pretty easy to fix.”
Read more here.