“When our land is illumined with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.”
—expressly anti-slavery stanza written in 1861 for The Star-Spangled Banner, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., father of the notable Supreme Court jurist
The Star-Spangled Banner, America’s Song
The Star-Spangled Banner, also known as America’s national anthem, was written by Francis Scott Key, an American patriot, on September 14, 1814, and was originally entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Key—after having witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British warships, during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812—was inspired by the triumphantly-waving Star-Spangled Banner to write the poem. Key wished to honor the resilience of American fighters who refused to give up Fort McHenry to their British aggressors. The sign of surrender the British sought was the striking of America’s colors—in other words, the lowering of America’s battle flag, the Stars and Stripes.
The poem was soon set to music, and the resultant song became increasingly popular throughout the 19th century. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., even wrote a new stanza for the anthem in order that this ode to American freedom expressly encompass the struggle to bestow the blessings of American freedom upon all who were being held in bondage at the outset of hostilities in the American Civil War. After Lincoln’s giving America a new birth of freedom for all, by prosecuting the Civil War to a successful conclusion, it might be said that Holmes’s lyrical efforts were in line with America’s victorious national sentiment that blacks and whites should enjoy equal rights. Yet many modern critics of The Star-Spangled Banner have made the claim that the tune was racist from the beginning and cannot be rehabilitated.
Demonizing the National Anthem as Racist
Many who denounce The Star-Spangled Banner as racist do so based upon a simplistic view of Francis Scott Key’s biography. However, Mark Clague has taken the time to write about Key and has pointed out that The Star-Spangled Banner does nothing more than vilify the enemies of America at the time in “what Key refers to in Verse 3 as ‘hirelings and slaves.’ This enemy included both whites and blacks. . . . The Colonial Marines were escaped black American slaves who joined British forces because of the promise of freedom. . . . For Key, however, the Colonial Marines were traitors. . . . Yet in 1814 Key’s lyric honored American soldiers both black and white. . . . America’s soldiers included mainly whites, but also free and escaped blacks. Escaped slave William Williams served in the US infantry at Fort McHenry and was killed by a fragment of a British bomb. Another escaped slave, Charles Ball, writes in his memoirs of being among the American soldiers of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla who courageously repelled a night attack and saved the city. ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ thus honors American military heroes, black and white, without regard to race. In this respect, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is not racist.”
Another set of facts almost unknown among the denouncers of Key is that, although Key did own slaves, Key also freed slaves. He must have treated them well, for one of them, Clem Johnson, stayed on with Key at his invitation after having been set free.
And, although Francis Scott Key did prosecute abolitionists after a violent slave uprising, while working as a United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, that is not the full story; for the selfsame Key was also the lawyer who had helped blacks to sue for their freedom in court, most notably in an 1825 case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. In this pre-Amistad case, a slave ship called the Antelope was described in court by Key as treating its “unhappy victims” with “extreme cruelty.” Although Key lost the case, most of the ship’s captives were, nonetheless, returned to Africa, an outcome very much influenced by the fact that Key was willing to take on this controversial law case.
Key did not always win in court, but he did try on many occasions to free slaves. While he lost for Sally Henry and for a black woman named Kitty, he won the cases for Harry Quando and Joseph Crawford. Key typically took such cases without pay, pro bono. And he is also known to have helped fundraising efforts for an abolitionist case to free an entire black family. Mark Clague’s article on Key is an excellent read and offers a keen counterbalance, in its perspective, to most of what one can expect to find using Google’s infamously-biased, politically-correct search engine.
Sidebar: A Few Words about Google
It has become well-known that Google, along with other search engines, has skewed search results in favor of anti-conservative media outlets of the DMC—the Democrat Media Complex—often guaranteeing difficulty in the finding of an even-handed treatment between progressive and conservative outlooks. It is sad, but true, that search engines have become so lopsidedly-politicized as to make even-handedness almost impossible to achieve in the carrying out of a simple search. Unless one has the exact web address of an article or the exact title of said article, the chances of finding it on Google by means of a simple key-word search are next to nil these days—unless, of course, the article has little or nothing to do with politics.
Singing the Anthem at Sporting Events: How It All Got Started
In modern sports, the history of The Star-Spangled Banner is an honorable one, untainted by racist motives. And no less a musical luminary than Whitney Houston has sung the anthem publicly. In Houston’s case, the performance occurred at Superbowl XXV. There was no taint of racism on America’s national anthem at the time, nor should there have been. America had recently gone to war to free Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s illegitimate take-over of that country. Warriors of all skin colors were represented in America’s fighting force, this time with greater racial diversity than at Fort McHenry. And the song was seen as respectful to and representative of all Americans.
The popularity of The Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events had its genesis on September 4, 1918, at Game One of the World Series (although it did not officially become America’s national anthem until 1931). Babe Ruth was starring in one of his last appearances as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, and the game was being played in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (which was normally home to the Chicago White Sox), due to its 30,000-seat capacity. World War One was in the news, and, seventeen months into the conflict, over 100,000 Americans had been killed. The mood of the crowd was solemn. The US government had decided it was time to draft Major League Baseball players into the war effort. But worse than that was the fact that there had been a bombing at the Chicago Federal Building earlier in the day, killing four people and wounding thirty. The socialist Industrial Workers of the World were behind the attack, which was meant as payback for the conviction of IWW members in federal court for sedition. Baseball lovers were in such a foul mood that only 19,000 tickets were sold for what should have been a sell-out.
Those who did show up to the game were moody to say the least. Through most of the ballgame, the crowd was quiet, causing the Chicago Tribune to dub the match-up between the teams “perhaps the quietest on record.” But the silence was interrupted, during the Seventh Inning Stretch, when the military band in the stadium began to play. With everyone already on their feet for the stretch, the band launched into The Star-Spangled Banner. The third-baseman for the Red Sox, Fred Thomas, who was on furlough to the team from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, immediately snapped to attention, facing the flag and giving it a military salute. The other players on the field stood tall and placed their hands over their hearts in the customary civilian salute to the flag. The crowd joined in, taking part in a sing-along with the anthem that grew stronger as the song progressed, finishing with a spirited flourish.
The New York Times wrote of the event: “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.” All of the ballyhoo caused the Cubs baseball team to make certain the performance was repeated during the Seventh Inning Stretch of the next two games. When the Series moved to Boston for the next three games, the Red Sox organization moved the anthem to the pregame time-slot, and they introduced to the crowd wounded warriors to whom the team had given free admission. Before Game Six, the crowd erupted with cheers in support of injured veterans on crutches, and thus the Boston fans helped to ignite a spirited game that helped carry the team to victory that night, thus winning the World Series 4-2. This Series-winning game took place on September 11th.
9/11 & the Anthem
But it was on another September 11th—September 11th of 2001—that would cause America to embrace its national song with perhaps the greatest fervor ever! Six days after the jihadist attack on America’s Twin Towers, on September 17, 2001, Major League Baseball resumed its schedule of play. And sports teams throughout the land would couple the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner with tributes to the victims of 9/11. Pro-American demonstrations were everywhere. From police officers and firefighters participating in the unfurling of giant American flags on football fields to military service members singing the anthem, America’s first responders and defenders of freedom were all being honored. Americans of all ethnicities, across the country, wore “I Love New York” buttons, fastened American flags to their car antennas, and sang The Star-Spangled Banner in public without shame or accusation.
The national anthem brought Americans together, and most Americans who lived through those dark days remember America’s national song with pride, hope, and many other positive feelings, for it was a time of national unity. All Americans stood together in their belief in America, during this time before the re-dividing of Americans along racial lines would begin. In fact, Whitney Houston’s version of the anthem would become a top-20 hit! To quote Luke Cyphers of ESPN , “That’s why, in a country that loudly lauds actions on the battlefield and the playing field, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and American athletics have a nearly indissoluble marriage. Hatched during one war, institutionalized during another, this song has become so entrenched in our sports identity that it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other.” And perhaps this is as it should be, for the Star-Spangled Banner is still being sung by all Americans who love sports and who love the country as a song that respects all of America’s first responders and military heroes—all of them, without respect to ethnicity or color. Indeed, The Star-Spangled Banner, as embodied in both tune and flag, is the proper symbol for a country where, no matter how humble one’s origins, it is possible to rise to the prominence of professional athletes who make millions of dollars a year—a majority of whom represent minorities, and a majority of whom also likely earn more money than 99% of the fans attending their games. So, respect is expected by the fans of professional sports, because it was literally the sacrifice of American blood and treasure that protected the rights of these athletes to make such high-dollar amounts, in a land where they are free to pursue such careers in the first place.
Jesse Owens & Tommie Smith
In 1936, it was Jesse Owens who demonstrated the fact that white athletes of the German “master race” were no match for a black athlete from America. When Owens won a gold medal, Hitler refused to shake hands with him. That was the racism of the leftwing National Socialists (or Nazis) under Hitler. Jesse Owens stood and saluted the American flag at the Olympic medal award ceremonies, at the 1 minute & 28 seconds mark, and the 2 minutes & 37 seconds mark). America was far from perfect, but it offered much more freedom than would ever have been extended to Owens under the socialism of Adolf Hitler. Had Hitler’s government won World War Two, the National Socialists would never have let the likes of a Jesse Owens participate in athletics, let alone earn millions of dollars doing so.
Only in a free country like America—where there is little or no racism in sports or among sports fans, and very little racism in the population at large—can athletes of all colors work side by side on the same teams, without having to worry that their ethnicities will be held against them by their teammates or by the sports clubs for which they play or that they will be derided by the country’s leaders or fans who look on as spectators.
Tommie Smith, more than a generation after Owens, became well-known for holding up a one-fisted Black Power salute in the 1968 Olympics, along with teammate John Carlos. Trying to bring attention to what he saw as racial injustice in the America of the Civil Rights Movement, Smith symbolized his views in a public forum at the Olympic Games during the medal ceremony. But here is what Smith has said about his protest: “I don’t like the idea of people looking at it as negative. There was nothing but a raised fist in the air and a bowed head, acknowledging the American flag—not symbolizing a hatred for it.” So, by his own account, even Tommie Smith was not intending to disrespect the flag. And the proof is in his standing up. He protested, but he did not take a knee during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. He could have, but that would have symbolized the hatred of which Smith speaks, and not the positive act which he envisions his protest to have been.
American Sports Fans Today
Sports fans today are probably the most conservative, least prejudiced, and most appreciative Americans you can assemble together in a stadium—any stadium in any part of the country. Their fanaticism for a player is based upon merit—how well the player performs—and nothing else. The hiring practices of owners are also merit-based. So, why do people in professional athletics feel the need to protest a song with such an anti-racist history? Perhaps the answer can be found in the education levels of many of the people who play sports, as expressed in the words of LeBron James: “At the end of the day, I don’t think a lot of people was educated.” Of course, LeBron was actually directing his comments against his fellow Ohioans, attempting to explain his opinion as to why Ohio voted heavily for Trump, but is it possible that his words go even further in illustrating just how uneducated pro athletes tend to be? What these athletes possess in terms of talent and salary level they are surely lacking when it comes to education and common sense.
Jesse Owens once said, “In America anyone can still become someone.” Owens said this at a time in American history that posed many more challenges for black Americans to exercise their rights and freedoms than are posed for them today. Since Owens made this statement, Barack Obama has been elected president and has served two terms, so no glass ceiling remains for blacks in any walk of life in America today, and this is especially true in sports. So, if Owens could honestly say this, back when he did, then who can dispute that this quote is even truer today? And what Star-Spangled Banner-loving American would even desire such a cowardly, anti-freedom reality? For is it not true that patriotic Americans wish to see America as the “land of the free, and the home of the brave”?
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com