In case you missed, it in all the sensationalism surrounding sexual misconduct by politicians of both parties, the California NAACP recently labeled “The Star-Spangled Banner” as “racist.”
To add insult to injury, California NAACP president Alice Huffman is lobbying legislators in California to support removing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem. She’s called it one of the “most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon.”
All this blather about our national anthem being “racist” was news to me, reminiscent of “News of the Weird.” Still, my intellectual curiosity about the validity of the vitriol spewed by Huffman prompted me to poke around in search of the source of her discontent.
I found the so-called “racist” lines in the long-obscure third stanza of Francis Scott Key’s manuscript, originally penned during the British bombarding of Fort McHenry in 1814: "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."
Some historians say the lines above celebrate the death of freed slaves who fought with the British, and against the Americans, in the War of 1812. Other historians suggest the lines allude to the mercenaries and impressed seamen who served in the British military. Key left no clue about what they meant.
The murky meaning of those long-ago lyrics has not kept the California NAACP from leaping from the unwarranted assumption to the foregone conclusion that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is so odious it must be expunged as our national anthem.
But wait, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been our beloved national anthem since 1931. Of course, we no longer sing all four stanzas of Key’s original version. Nor should we. Eight lines are enough to capture the song’s essence.
In a classic non sequitur, Huffman asserted, "We owe a lot of it to Kaepernick. I think all this controversy about the knee will go away once the song is removed.” Meanwhile, I understand the California NAACP is still looking for legislative sponsors for its resolutions.
To my knowledge, California Assemblyman and Legislative Black Caucus chair Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat has not weighed in. However, Assemblyman Travis Allen, a Huntington Beach Republican and candidate for governor has voiced his opposition.
“Our flag and national anthem unite us as Americans,” he said. “Protesting our flag and national anthem sows division and disrespects the diverse Americans who have proudly fought and died for our country.”
I think Huffman and the California NAACP are dead wrong on their quixotic quest to remove “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.