So now it’s the National Anthem, I said to myself. What’s all this about? What can offend anyone in the song of our country? I sang this beautiful song as a child in school, and still remember the words. Am I missing something?
Evidently I am, according to many who are sounding out on the internet and others at events covered by the media. These people are saying that the anthem has a racist meaning and should be discontinued in this nation. They further explain that this meaning so full of racism it is hidden. No surprise there at all, but I guess that is why I don’t see it.
So I seek further information on this subject. After reading many articles by varied authors touting the racism of and demanding the replacement of the anthem by a better song (one that includes all people), I landed on the TheRoot.com and the words of Jason Johnson. This man explains it all in a way that quite challenges the imagination.
We may proceed step by step with his fiction. He states that Lieutenant Francis Scott Key was defeated in the Battle of Bladensburg by a group of black soldiers while he was an officer leading men. This happened on Aug. 24, 1815, according to him, and infuriated Key so much that he couldn’t get over it. He could not handle being bested by black soldiers.
Well, Johnson does get the name of the battle right, and there were some black soldiers present who were fighting for the British. However, the Battle of Bladensburg was fought in 1814, and not 1815. And Key had not yet been mustered into the Army. He was a civilian advisor to the commander of the militia.
He states also that in September 1815, Key was aboard a British ship begging for the release of a friend. Actually, Key was aboard a British ship. But it was in 1814. At that time, he was negotiating the release of an American citizen and attending to other matters. Just keeping it straight here.
Lastly, he states that on Sept. 13, again 1815, Key was on board a British ship and watched the heavy shelling of Baltimore. After the battle, and still boiling with hatred over his defeat at the hands of black soldiers, he immediately wrote the Star Spangled Banner. And in doing so, he devoted a full stanza to racial hatred.
Francis Scott Key wrote a poem, not a song, after this battle, which occurred on Sept. 13, 1814. Not 1815. It was made into a song a little later on by other persons. And only the first stanza of that poem is sung in that beautiful song.
Nevertheless, let’s look at the third stanza of this poem which condemns the song and its hidden meaning that somehow escapes me.
Here it is:
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 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.
Our critic states that Key really meant that the blood of all former slaves and hirelings will wash away the pollution of the British invaders. This is the hidden meaning and basis for his invidious statements concerning racial intent.
Upon examination of this stanza, it is pretty clear by the fourth line that the pollution is washed out by the British soldiers’ own blood. The next two lines concern mercenaries and slaves who were dispatched in the battle or took flight. These two groups took a small part in the contest as the British troops were seasoned and just from the war with Napoleon.
How these lines by Key are hidden, racist, and insulting as suggested is beyond me. And if that were the intent, why would he mention the hirelings, who were usually Germanic or other Europeans, in the same context as slaves? And besides that; this was antebellum, and anything racist could be said or written without fear of reprisal.
The third stanza is devoted to the forces of this country repelling an invader. And I personally don’t care when my country is concerned who the invader is or what color he is. And I applaud his termination. Whatever that makes me, I happily accept and so be it.
And P.S., just as many or more escaped and free black soldiers were voluntarily fighting for the U.S. at that time. This was the War of 1812 and black men filled 15 percent of our naval forces. And many of these were at Bladensburg fighting under the famous cannoneer, Charles Ball. Guess what color he was?
Leroy Heher is a resident of Rarden, Ohio.