“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.”
These seemingly cryptic lyrics are from the third Stanza of the “Star Spangled Banner,” written by American lyricist and poet Francis Scott Key. The lyrics, originally penned under the title “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” refer to his experience during the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. In 1916, the year of my grandmother’s birth in Edgefield, S.C., President Woodrow Wilson designated through executive order that this historical hymn would become the national anthem, all while segregating federal agencies and kicking out civil rights leader William Trotter from the White House. In 1931, the U.S. Congress officially recognized the “Star Spangled Banner” as the national anthem and signed it into law.
Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, marks the 525th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ stumble into the islands known today as the Bahamas. I think the third stanza of America’s national anthem represents perfectly what the papacy, King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus (original Cristóbol Colón, Spanish pronunciation) intended for this so-called New World to Europeans. Key not only brilliantly captures the physicality and fervor of “bombs bursting in air” but also the reality that existed at the time that references slavery and indentured servitude. The current atmosphere of street protests, racial tensions, protests in sport (surrounding the flag and national anthem), mass shootings and the overall downtrodden emotional environment that Americans are experiencing provide perfect timing for a re-analysis of the pillars and underpinnings of the nation. The power of a democracy is in the critique of current systems, leadership and beginnings. If a democracy is to survive, only through constant self-reflection and critique will that happen.
Frederick Douglass asked in the late 19th century, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” I think this question has not been deconstructed enough by African-Americans or by American society as a whole. The reality in the United States is that the general sentiment in regard to African-American angst and rightful anger about racism and white supremacy is that they should “just get over it.” “That was in the past.” “We’re in a post racial society.” They should just get over it and be “good Americans” just like everyone else. “They would have been living in huts and would have been starving with the other Africans if us noble and civilized whites had not saved them from their savage selves.”
This type of thinking has led to an America that is not “great,” an America that 152 years after the end of the Civil War still has not made good on its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans, has broken promises made to African-Americans during Reconstruction and has broken most if not all treaties with the indigenous people of this land.