Star Spangled Protest: The Verse You Missed

It’s time to Break It Down!

The challenges of living in and leveraging the dynamic opportunities of a multicultural society such as that found in the United States of America are many. There are more reasons for that than I could ever address adequately in any single blog post. Today I will take a brief look at our nation’s Anthem, and examine several “Key” related points, pun intended, including the man who penned it, the little known third verse, the antipathy toward black athletes who dare point out the inconsistencies and/or inequities related to the fundamentals of our Constitution, its Amendments, our Creed, and of course, the Anthem.

I cannot begin to recall how many times I have heard Conservatives remind us that ours is an exceptional nation. This characterization implies an unimpeachable blessing bestowed upon us by no less than the almighty God, an inherent righteousness assigned to any and all causes that America deigns to endorse, as well as an irreducible validation of our systems and values, e.g., Capitalism, Free Enterprise, and the irresistible force that is the power of the United States Military Industrial Complex.

Since this past weekend we have engaged in a national dialogue, much of it digitally, about an NFL player opting not to stand for the National Anthem. Colin Kaepernick is a member of the San Francisco 49’ers, in fact a quarterback who incidentally is currently not projected as a starter at his position. Mr. Kaepernick cited his concern about blacks dying in the streets and officers getting paid leave, which is frequently the most onerous consequence to them, resulting from their actions.

Kaepernick is an African American, the son of a white mother and a black father. He was adopted and raised by white parents. Not surprisingly, as has come to be the norm, social media has erupted over this so-called controversy. Many critics across racial lines have suggested that neither the timing, nor the venue in which he expressed his stated concerns was appropriate. As you might imagine, he drew pointed ire from Veterans and Veterans’ groups. Moreover, he attracted a spate of racial epithets from a number of white people.

It is also important to note that some Veterans supported him, and others at least supported his right to exercise his First Amendment rights; a point I will come back to later. At least one Veteran’s group also extended its support, and it must be observed, not all whites thought he was wrong to express the sentiments he did.

America is an exceedingly complex society. It has been that way since the outset, and when one looks back at our evolution and development as a nation state, it is fair to say at this juncture, our complexity increases almost daily. We used to describe our country as a melting pot. Subsequent metaphors many of us adopted for a time included a tossed salad, and a quilt. Today, we are comprised of a global consortium of interconnected communities representing every corner of the world. We are rapidly approaching that magical moment when white people will no longer represent the majority of the American population. Undoubtedly, there are those who submit that when that barrier is crossed, we will no longer be great. Sigh!

Consider that backdrop when you evaluate Kaepernick’s actions and comments. The comments and the varied responses are a reflection of a broadening chasm between people who look at America and see an Empire receding rapidly from a glorious past, and those who view a burgeoning giant ready to rise triumphantly into a brilliant future marked by immeasurable contributions from our growing diverse communities. The contrast is almost as stark as the distinction between isolationist Maoist China and the American society that boldly embraced the notion of E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one).

Colin Kaepernick’s battle is neither his alone, nor a new one. As recently as two weeks ago during the 2016 Summer Olympics, American Gymnast Gabby Douglas was flayed because as she stood (and she did stand) on the Medal Stand with her four Olympic teammates, she did not place her hand over her heart, as her teammates did during the Anthem. She did not announce any protest, before or after her appearance, and in fact later apologized for having been a distraction. Nevertheless, her action, or lack thereof, became a huge issue. By the same token, in those same Olympics, American Wrestlers similarly did not place their hands on their hearts, and (are you surprised) there was no furor. Now if I note that Ms. Douglas was black and the Wrestlers were white, someone will ask, why does everything have to be racialized? I not only agree, I would ask, why didn’t anyone think of that before singling out the black American Gymnast…but not the white American Wrestlers? I’m just saying!

But this is bigger, much bigger than that. When Muhammad Ali declared himself a conscientious objector in 1967 and refused to serve in the Vietnam War, he was effectively pilloried. He lost his Title as the Heavyweight Boxing Champion, his boxing license, his passport, and three of what could have been the most productive years in his boxing career, spanning from ages 25 to nearly 29. If only there had been the Internet and social media in that era, I can only imagine the fallout that would have resulted.

It did not take long for the next episode. At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, American Track and Field Team members Tommie Smith, the fastest man in the world at the time, and John Carlos each wore a black glove and black socks as they raised their arms in a salute to unity with people fighting internationally for human rights around the world when  they received their Gold and Bronze Medals, respectively. Smith actually set a World Record in the race (200 Meters) that would last for eleven years. The two were immediately sent home and faced significant fallout for the duration of their careers. While many of us know this, a lesser known footnote about that race is Silver Medalist Peter Norman, of Australia, also felt moved by the two runners support of global human rights, and also wore a badge in support for the effort. His career was also forever affected by that fateful act. Australia had it’s own issues and operated a system similar to South African Apartheid that affected the country’s Aborigines. Norman was never permitted to compete for Australia again.

Decades later, Ali, at his funeral earlier this year was honored and given a hero’s Rites. His actions from 50 years ago are viewed through a different lens these days. Even Smith and Carlos’ actions today generally receive favorable reviews by most Americans. It’s difficult to predict if Kaepernick will be looked at similarly at some point in the future.

But there’s more. The Anthem itself must be assessed in its fullness, rather than based on just the single verse that is sung at most events. Francis Scott Key, wrote the Anthem during a battle at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, September 13-14, 1813. Like many of the notable Southern elites of his time, Key was a slave owner. He was a Marylander, and yes, Maryland is a Southern State. The infamous Mason-Dixon Line runs through the state; more accurately, it separates Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Most folks have no idea the Star Spangled Banner has four verses. The song was originally a poem, “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” The third verse rather graphically and pointedly speaks to spilling the blood of slaves and sending them to their graves. Yes, that was indeed a sign of the times, but now…is not then! When I reflect upon it, I find it surprising that many more people, especially African Americans, do not stand or cover their heart during the Anthem…and I’m reasonably sure if more people knew the history, there would be less acquiescence with the rituals. Here’s hoping this post spreads the word. See verse three below, and after verse three the Anthem in its entirety:

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!”

 

The Star Spangled Banner Lyrics

By Francis Scott Key 1814

 

Oh, 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 thru 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.

Oh, 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! Oh 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!

 

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!

Blest with victory 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!

All things considered, there are many vexing issues related to this dust-up. There is of course, the disparate treatment of America’s black and white athletes when they run afoul of Anthem Rituals. It is also unfathomable how any person prone to a balanced perspective could ignore the implications of a slave owner’s theme song adopted as the country’s national standard. Finally, there is the issue of honoring those who serve.

I did not serve, but I do have a number of Veterans in my family. I love, honor and respect each and every one of them. But let’s be clear, they and every man and woman who served and fought, did so for our freedoms…all of them. Specifically, they did not fight just for the Second Amendment. Yes, we have the right to bear arms. But without question, they also fought for the First Amendment, which if you are counting, comes before the Second. This means you; I, and Colin Kaepernick all have Freedom of Speech. As such, he is not only able to sit during the National Anthem, he may do so knowing that those who serve do so in order to ensure that he can do just that. So, the next time this issue arises, be mindful of the…Star Spangled Protest: The Verse You Missed!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Consult the links below for more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Kaepernick

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabby_Douglas

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmoud_Abdul-Rauf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommie_Smith

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Carlos

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Norman

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/08/09/gabby-douglas-hand-heart-olympics/

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-no-gabby-douglas-anthem-outrage-white-olympic-medalists-article-1.2760918

http://www.counterpunch.org/2004/03/12/an-interview-with-toni-smith/

http://www.espn.com/nba/news/story?id=3592734

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/29/sport/colin-kaepernick-flag-protest-has-history-trnd/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Scott_Key

http://holyjoe.org/poetry/key.htm

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