In a nation built on a foundation of genocide and slavery, sacred symbols, spaces and songs often reflect the enduring racial oppression that is obvious to those who suffer it but is invisible or even non-existent to those who perpetrate and perpetuate it.
Such is the case with our national anthem. Unbeknownst to countless millions of Americans, many of whom can’t even properly recite the first verse of “The Star Spangled Banner,” our anthem contains four verses. The third verse of the blood-soaked song glorifies the killing of escaped slaves who fought with Britain, which had abolished the slave trade in 1807, in exchange for their freedom during the War of 1812:
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
Many black and some non-black progressive voices have long called for the removal and replacement of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which, unbeknownst to the vast majority of Americans, only officially became the national anthem in 1931, some 117 years after Francis Scott Key penned the patriotic paean. Such calls have largely come from the fringes of our racial and social justice movements. However, now the most prominent black advocacy group in the nation’s most important state has joined the growing chorus of those who say “The Star-Spangled Banner” should go.
At its recent state convention, the California branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said it would push state lawmakers, and eventually Congress, to replace the anthem. “We’re not trying to protest the flag at all,” insisted Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP of California and Hawaii. “We’re protesting this racist song that has caused so much controversy in America, and we’re just trying to get it removed. So, whatever comes out in the future as a national anthem, we can all stand proudly and sing it.” Speaking of the anthem’s most offensive verse, Huffman added that “there’s no way you can think it meant anything great for African Americans.”
It wasn’t meant to mean anything great for African Americans when it was written. Although Key was once a young Washington, DC attorney known as the “blacks’ lawyer” for defending clients of color, he later served as attorney general in the administration of the genocidal slave owner (and Trump favorite) Andrew Jackson. In that capacity, he prosecuted abolitionist Reuben Crandall for exercising his First Amendment right to distribute pamphlets calling for an end to slavery. What punishment did Key seek for Crandall’s “crime?” Nothing short of execution by hanging.
The California NAACP also introduced resolutions in support of former NFL star Colin Kaepernick, who is kneeling not against the anthem but against the racism and police brutality that are as ubiquitous as the song itself, and against President Donald Trump, for calling NFL players who kneel during the anthem “sons of bitches.” Many millions of white Americans will now undoubtedly howl against the “racism” of the NAACP, which Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III — previously deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge — once called “un-American.” That’s how it goes in a nation in which the acknowledgement and condemnation of racism are considered a greater outrage than the racism itself.