There is growing outrage over calls by activists, historians and journalists to replace Star Spangled Banner as the national anthem because it was written by slave owner Francis Scott Key, and potentially replace it with John Lennon’s Imagine.
Historian Daniel E. Walker and activist and journalist Kevin Powell made the remarks in an article written by Yahoo Music Editor Lyndsey Parker titled ‘Why it might be time to finally replace The Star-Spangled Banner with a new national anthem’.
They say that because the song was written by Francis Scott Key, a white slave owner who made poignantly racist remarks, it is no longer appropriate that lyrics he wrote should still be the national anthem given the ongoing cultural reckoning and recognizing of systemic racism in America.
Powell suggested Lennon’s Imagine as a replacement, calling it the ‘most beautiful, unifying, all-people, all-backgrounds-together kind of song you could have’.
The interview has now drawn the ire of many Twitter users who say it is an example of the Black Lives Matter movement being used to ‘erase American history.’
Daniel E. Walker and activist and journalist Kevin Powell both argued that the song should be replaced. Powell suggested John Lennon’s Imagine as an alternative
The Star Spangled Banner being performed at the Super Bowl in February by Demi Lovato
Walker, who is also an author, said in the interview: ‘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.
STAR SPANGLED BANNER LYRICS
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
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 washed out their foul footsteps’ 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.
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
‘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.”‘
The lyrics come from the 1814 poem Defence of Fort M’Henry which Key, the son of a prominent white family, wrote after watching British troops descent on Fort McHenry between September 13 and 14, 1814.
American troops defended Baltimore Harbor through the night and in the morning, Key was inspired by the sight of the American flag flying over the battlefield.
It became the national anthem in 1931.
Among the lyrics is: ‘No refuge could save the hireling and slave
‘From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave’.
Historians have long disagreed over what Key meant.
Some say he inferred that slaves who had joined the British Colonial Marines deserved to die in the battle.
Others argue that he was referring to the British forces in their entirety.
Key made other, more poignantly racist remarks elsewhere.
Powell said in the Yahoo interview that to have
‘The Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, who was literally born into a wealthy, slave-holding family in Maryland.
‘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.
‘This was not just a person who just lived in the time period.
‘This is a person who helped define the time period.’
He and Walker are not the first to point attention towards Key and his role in history amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.
Liana Morales refused to sing the song at her virtual graduation ceremony, choosing instead to sing Lift Every Voice and Sing instead.
A statue of Key in San Francisco has been toppled by protesters.
But critics leaped on calls to replace the national anthem, calling it a ‘stupid’ idea and claiming it amounted to ‘woke folk’ trying to ‘erase American History’.
Twitter leaped into criticism of the idea that the song should be replaced. Among those who tweeted was journalist Yashar Ali who called the Yahoo article ‘stupid’
Among critics was Megyn Kelly who tweeted: ‘And…there goes the national anthem.’
Others said: ‘They want to remove the National Anthem and the Flag is next. People won’t let them erase Truth of American History! Shame on YOU @YahooEnt’
Cancel culture is the name now being given to the increasing trend of people being fired, institutions being dismantled and systems being broken down because they are considered offensive or racist.
The national movement for racial equality was triggered by the killing of George Floyd in May by cops in Minneapolis who knelt on his neck for nine minutes while he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
It spawned a global discussion of police brutality and has shone a light on almost every other aspect of American life where racism persists, leading to an almost universal pledge to be less prejudiced.
Part of the movement has seen the toppling of Confederate statues across America and removing media from pop culture that is offensive.
Gone With the Wind was pulled from streaming services because it was accused of glorifying slavery and white privilege.
While many say it is a long-overdue overhaul of pop culture, others- namely conservatives – believe it is going too far.
Francis Scott Key: The slave-owner who wrote the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner who thought black people were ‘inferior’
Francis Scott Key was a lawyer and prominent figure in Maryland. His family were prolific plantation owners in Maryland.
On the evening of September 13-14, 1814, he watched from the Tonnant, a British ship as Fort McHenry came under bombardment.
He had gone to one of the British ships to secure the release of an American doctor who had been taken into their custody.
He wrote to a friend that he watched from on-board the ship as Fort McHenry and Baltimore were besieged by the British, convinced that the fort would be conquered.
Finally, by the time battle was over, he watched the sunrise over an enormous American flag that was flying at the Fort.
The flag was 30 x 42ft and had been sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill at the request of Major Armistead, the fort commander.
As the British withdrew from the harbor, he was freed. Later, his brother-in-law found the words he’d written on a piece paper in his home and had them printed in a newspaper as a poem titled Defence of Fort M’Henry.
Within weeks, the poem was printed in newspapers around the country.
It was was not until 1931 that the song was conferred as the national anthem by President Hoover, and officially given the name The Star-Spangled Banner.
Key was both an opponent of slavery and a defender of it.
He believed that African Americans should ‘return’ to Africa and he was part of the American Colonization Society which led to the creation of an independent Liberia on the west coast of Africa in 1847.
Key died in 1843, without seeing his poem become the national anthem.