Brent Staples writes a perspective in the New York Times that offers information the average American probably doesn’t know about our national anthem. Maybe you knew already about “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and its history and reason for existence. I’ve never heard of it.
Most of us know at least a little about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” how Francis Scott Key wrote it after seeing the flag still waving over the fort after a bitter battle. Stirs the soul, yes.
Most of us know Key was a slave-owner. In general, I’m willing to allow historical figures their triumphs even if they held views we now consider vile. “Men of their time” and that kind of thing, but I add the caveat that there were a LOT of other men (and women) of “that time” who understood those views were wrong. So no one gets a complete pass in my book. But I only recently found out about the despicable third verse of Key’s song:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave…
This is probably a reference to the slaves who fought with the British in return for the promise of freedom, assuming the British won the war. I can practically see Key’s as an incarnation of Emperor Palpatine, licking his lips and rubbing his hands in gleeful disdain as he cackles over the cowering humans he owns. “You lost and you are doomed forever! Ha!”
So maybe we should not have used that song as a national anthem. Can’t we be better than that?
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is better – you can read the lyrics here – although it’s still not perfect IMO. Personally, I don’t think we can have an anthem that does not acknowledge and honor the native people we slaughtered as we stole their land from them. But the history of this song is a clear tribute to real freedom because that freedom applies to all Americans.
Which is the whole darn point.