The Star-Spangled Banner has been getting a lot of attention lately from NFL players kneeling during it or just not showing up for it at all. Trending just under the radar on social media is the “newly discovered” second, third and fourth verses of the National Anthem. In particular, the third verse states:
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.
I’m gonna admit that until the controversy started, I wasn’t aware of all the verses. So I took some time to do some research. Francis Scott Key wrote the words in a poem during the War of 1812. Americans were defending this country against their brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews and who knows what else who lived in England and fought for the British, who offered slaves the chance for freedom if they fought with them. When the British lost the war, those who had fought with them lost as well. The slaves and poor whites who had been hired to fight were both given equal billing in the lines of the poem. But in our racially charged world today, no one seems to have noticed that. The word slave has been mentioned and that is all it takes.
What year did the Star-Spangled Banner (SSB) become our official national anthem? During the Civil War? What about during the Spanish-American War? How about during World War I? If you picked any of the prior three responses … you’re wrong! It became our official national anthem in 1931 (prior to that date, military bands did play it as the unofficial anthem).
Anyway, back to the anthem. A group of Morgan State University students did a film about the SSB titled, “What So Proudly We Hail.” It is an informative film that answered many of my questions about the history of the song. Yet other questions came to mind and concern me because if black Americans are to get highly offended by the third stanza of the song, then why are we some of the biggest celebratorians of the 4th of July? How can we celebrate the year 1776 but decry a song written during the War of 1812 when our ancestors were enslaved during both events? How can we fill our plates on Thanksgiving when we weren’t at the table? I could go on, but I’m sure you get my drift.
America can never claim to be perfect or have been perfect. It is her attempts to correct prior errors as she strives toward perfection that makes this country great. But if we focus solely on the past without paying attention to the future, we are forever stuck in a routine of insanity that allows us to go nowhere while at the same time millions of people have come here and are doing everything they can to stay.
There are real issues occurring in America. Lines of a song pale in comparison to lines coming out of Congress in terms of the laws they are creating. We cannot afford to let minor controversies shift our emphasis from what is most important: Health care, education, and employment will affect us more than a little-known stanza. Let us not get so distracted that the distraction becomes the issue over more pressing ones.