O Say Can You See the Truth About Key?

The flag that was still waving o’er Baltimore’s Fort McHenry at the dawn’s early light, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

There is talk of changing our National Anthem because Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner, and because the song contains pro-slavery lyrics.

My initial reaction was negative: I can’t see that it’s useful to erase the other achievements of anyone who owned slaves. What’s next? Give back two-thirds of the country because it was Jefferson who made the Louisiana Purchase? Submit again to British rule because Washington led the Continental Army? Hardly anyone ever sings the offensive verses. Can’t we just decide that only the first verse is the national anthem, and ignore the rest? And so forth.

But the more I think about it, the more I find myself supporting the removal of the song as our National Anthem. I’ve done some quick research on Key. While he spoke out against the cruelty of slavery and actually freed his own slaves, he was a white supremacist who called blacks “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” He also suppressed abolitionists, and argued for shipping free blacks back to Africa.

I’m not sure what we’d choose as our new National Anthem. “America the Beautiful” has religious lyrics; I can’t see an advantage in getting rid of an anthem that makes blacks feel excluded in order to replace it with one that excludes non-Christians. I’ve heard John Lennon’s “Imagine” suggested as an alternative. I love the song, but people would object that it was written by a Brit; besides, the Right would balk, saying it pushes a Socialist, anti-religious agenda.

“This Land Is Your Land” has also been brought up. So far, I’m liking that idea.

What would you replace it with?

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