Replace National Anthem With Something Less Militaristic, More Inclusive, Says Historian

Fans stand for the national anthem.
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The national anthem, with its references to artillery and its composer’s connections to slavery, should be replaced with something less militaristic and more inclusive, historian Daniel E. Walker says.

As Yahoo Entertainment reported, Walker, the author of No More, No More: Slavery and Cultural Resistance in Havana and New Orleans and producer of the documentary How Sweet the Sound: Gospel in Los Angeles, said that “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be reconsidered as the national anthem of the United States.

“I do side with the people who say that we should rethink this as the national anthem, because this is about the deep-seated legacy of slavery and white supremacy in America,” he said, noting that references to similar institutions in the United States are daily slaps in the face to African Americans.

“We do it under the guise of ‘legacy,'” he added.

The song’s composer, Francis Scott Key, had attitudes that, in his day, were commonplace and largely accepted without a second thought. He owned slaves. As a lawyer, he represented slave owners and supported the prosecution of runaway slaves. He also supported the colonization of Africa.

“This was not just a person who just lived in the time period. This is a person who helped define the time period,” activist and journalist Kevin Powell said, the author of the new book When We Free the World.

painting of francis scott key
  Joseph Wood / Wikimedia Commons (GPL)

Beyond Key’s personal legacy, there’s also the fact that the song has multiple verses, the third of which is unambiguously racist.

“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.”

So what song should replace “The Star-Spangled Banner”?

Walker, for his part, suggested John Lennon’s “Imagine,” saying it strikes all the right notes.

Failing that, he stated potential songs — whatever they may be — should go through a vetting process, making sure they don’t have any racist, historical, or cultural baggage.

Alternatively, Walker suggested “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” which in some ways is the opposite of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The song, written as a poem in 1900 and set to music in 1905, doesn’t mention slavery or oppression directly, but does mention overcoming a dark past and looking to a brighter future.

In 1919, the NAACP declared it “The Negro National Anthem,” and indeed, it has come to be embraced by the African American community in the century since. Maya Angelou referenced it in her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing also makes reference to it. Beyoncé performed the song during her highly-praised 2018 Coachella set.