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KING: Why I'll never stand again for 'The Star-Spangled Banner'

Francis Scott Key, who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner," celebrated slavery in the original lyrics.


Shaun King

I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In a dream world the bread is super soft, like the Wonder Bread of my childhood, and the sandwich will have crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jam, and a cup of cold milk to go with it.

Maybe PB&J isn't your favorite sandwich, but I want you to imagine your favorite comfort food for a moment. Maybe it's a hamburger, a piece of pie, or a fruit smoothie. Whatever it is, just imagine yourself enjoying the very best version of your very favorite food.

It's perfectly delicious. Then, imagine yourself glancing up on the wall and seeing that the restaurant had a score of C minuses on their health inspection. Then you go to the restroom and it's filthy. A man emerges from the stall having followed by the foulest odor you've ever smelled in your life, and you notice he's still wearing his apron from the kitchen. Then, the unthinkable happens — the man who made your comfort food walks right past the sink and doesn't even wash his hands.

You leave the restaurant in disgust. As you stand outside without even finishing your meal, you see the world's largest rat dart out from under a gaping hole by the restaurant door. You are now completely undone. You are "call the health department and post an angry one-star review on Yelp" level undone. You don't even want your money back. You just want to get the hell away from there. Your new dream come true would be to have one of those "Men in Black" wands waved over your face so that you could forget the implications of the meal you just ate.

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Would you ever go back to the restaurant? Of course you wouldn't.

To me, right now, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is that peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I used to love it, but now I regret ever going anywhere near it. The man who made it — who uses the bathroom in his apron and doesn't wash his hands, is the author of our national anthem, Francis Scott Key, who, as it turns out, was a terrible human being.

The “land of the free” didn’t really apply to the millions of people who were enslaved when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written.

Now that I have learned the truth about our national anthem and its author, I'll never stand up for it again.

First off, the song, which was originally written as a poem, didn't become our national anthem until 1931 — which was 117 years after Key wrote it. Most of us have no true idea what in the hell we've been hearing or singing all these years, but as it turns out, Key's full poem actually has a third stanza which few of us have ever heard. In it, he openly celebrates the murder of slaves. Yes, really.

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It goes like this:

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

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O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

While it has always been known that the song was written during American slavery and that when those words about this nation being the "land of the free" didn't apply to the millions who had been held in bondage, few of us had any idea that the song itself was rooted in the celebration of slavery and the murder of Africans in America, who were being hired by the British military to give them strength not only in the War of 1812, but in the Battle of Fort McHenry of 1814. These black men were called the Corps of Colonial Marines and they served valiantly for the British military. Key despised them. He was glad to see them experience terror and death in war — to the point that he wrote a poem about it. That poem is now our national anthem.

While I fundamentally reject the notion that anyone who owned other human beings was either good, moral, or decent, Francis Scott Key left absolutely no doubt that he was a stone cold bigot. He came from generations of plantation owning bigots. They got wealthy off of it. Key, as District Attorney of Washington, fought for slavery and against abolitionists every chance he got. Even when Africans in D.C. were injured or murdered, he stood strong against justice for them. He openly spoke racist words against Africans in America. Key said that they were "a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community."

While San Francisco 49ers quarter back Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand for the national anthem because of the overflowing abundance of modern day injustice in America, he has helped bring to light the fact that this song and its author are deeply rooted in violent white supremacy.

I will never stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner" another day in my damn life. I don't care where I am or who's watching. The statue of the racist Cecil Rhodes, which stood tall in South Africa as a painful relic from white supremacists until March of 2015, was finally removed once and for all. It should've never been erected. It should've been removed a very long time ago, student leaders made it clear that they had had enough.

Like Kaepernick, I've had enough of injustice in America and I've had enough of anthems written by bigots. Colin Kaepernick has provided a spark.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" should've never been made into our national anthem. That President Woodrow Wilson, widely thought to be one of the most bigoted presidents ever elected, chose it as our national anthem, is painfully telling as well. We must do away with it like South Africans did away with their monument to Cecil Rhodes. We must do away with it like South Carolina did with the Confederate Flag over their state house.

Of course, removing the culture of white supremacy does not necessarily remove its effects, but we must simultaneously and passionately address both. I'm joining Colin Kaepernick, who joined in with the spirit of Rosa Parks, by standing up for our rights by sitting down. I hope you join us.

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Comment by El-Bull on September 4, 2016 at 8:55pm

AfricanGoddess thanks for the update

Comment by AfricanGoddess on September 4, 2016 at 7:05pm

“To mute the slave has always been to the best interest of the slave owner."  

--Harry Belafonte

Comment by AfricanGoddess on September 4, 2016 at 3:39pm

He is excercising his rights,as he should... What's the problem again? Who/what is he harming? Why the uproar? Is this still America? The double standard is sickening!

I swear this is how they break the strong ones down... to keep all docile,instead of speaking up when needed.

*Sigh* He is not ungrateful,hateful,disrespectful or unpatriotic as some are claiming,he is simple saying,something is wrong here,fix it! I believe it's very American of him,the better part of America to be exact... where he has the right to freely express his feelings and thoughts!  It's very obvious most prefer to never acknowledge the truth,which is denial of legitimate racism and injustice existing for others... The status quo is just fine for your group to the point of accusing someone else of disliking the country for not doing what you like or want by default.   You all should be offended, embarrased at yourselves for being closeminded to others suffering and pain.   Let's face it,your patriotism stance is disguised hatred to all who doesn't agree with your programming,the world sees this... you all are not fooling anyone!

To witness the virtriol being spewed at Colin Kaepernick is mind boggling in human conditioning. How much more oppressive can this get... GEEZ!     The more you'll ignore the problem and not face the filth,the bigger it becomes... which then create more resentment and hate from the oppressed group.  Even nature is beginning to react indifferently from this continued evil,crisis and chaos... watch out now...

He is on the right side of history,his spirit is moving in the right direction. Thanks for being a brave soul in your huemanly conviction,by sitting it out for the bigotry,injustice and inequality against blacks and people of color! How can anyone with a conscience and heart be upset at a person for speaking out against any atrocities being committed towards their own country men,women and children. Now,that's some deep embedded hate!

What's important though,he doesn't care what is being said or could possible happen by the backlashers... He is willing to walk in his own light alone,even if it means giving it all up for what he believe is wrong and that's integrity.

He is an EVOLVED HUMAN living and dealing with reality,he will not be forced to live the illusion as the rest of the zombified,trained of thought masses does...

The concept of America is a great one I admire,but to which all are not living in it's fullest potential... make this country the greatest,by making America great to all within from hereon with tolerance,equality and justice... not bias,injustice,inequality,cruelity and death unchecked.

Respect given,respect reciprocrated(Law Of Nature In It's Highest Form)

Oh,by the way... the anthem from inception was a racist one towards African/Black Americans in the first place!(check the original version before it was revised) So,when a black person or a person with black Ancestry doesn't want to pledge to racism/racist ideology,and or if these inhumane,unempathetic whiners are so patriotic to the point of not getting it... kindly remind them from whence this cometh,by this one fact alone... even if black life doesn't matter to you!
SMFH (in shame of humanless humans amongst us... many must not be humans afterall!)

In a self serving context,how would this be for your group,if the shoe was on the other foot? Why can't you all see the err from yesteryear into today,then make the necessary changes for the betterment of the whole? You all live to keep Black people in their place... well,in real time it feels like dictatorship from the other end... we can't breathe freely in this dwelling with the beastly actions towards our people. Just maybe if some of you all would stop treating black people inhumanely,some black people wouldn't react,what an idea. My,get a human heart already!

This country can be better when all rise to the occassion to do better... not by oppression!

Look at it this way,these are the necessary small step into a honest dialog for change to occur.

From the top and bottom of my heart!

Comment by AfricanGoddess on September 4, 2016 at 3:14pm

Great post!@ El Bull

I somewhat touched on this without going into full details in a reply on another forum last week with all the hoopla surrounding Colin Kaepernick defiance.   I'll copy and paste it here.

Comment by El-Bull on September 1, 2016 at 9:37pm

Omar you're welcome

Comment by Omar on September 1, 2016 at 1:14pm
Received some insight yesterday on this despicable character Key but not to this degree. I applaud your efforts of enlightenment.

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