Do you know why?
No refuge could save
the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight
or the gloom of the grave
You probably have never heard this part of the national anthem. Well, that’s because the singers always omit this part of the original lyrics at all sports events and public gatherings.
While the first verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is widely known by the American public, the last three verses are never sung.
The national anthem is a four-verse long poem by Francis Scott Key called, The Star-Spangled Banner. The first verse is about the American flag flying over a fort after a battle, a symbol of the resilience of the United States of America. So why does the poem suddenly switch from signifying resistance to threatening slaves with murder?
For some context, we’ll have to explain what was happening at the time the poem was born. In 1812, a war broke out between the U.S. and Britain. The U.S. says it started because Britain kept harassing their ships and trying to impose trade restrictions. Britain says it started because the U.S. wanted to make a land grab of their colonies in what is now Canada. Either way, in July of 1812 the U.S. declared war at a time when Britain was militarily exhausted.
While they had some troops to defend their colonies in North America, the bulk of the British forces were spread halfway across the planet engaged in battles with the Napolean army. Since the Napolean wars weren’t going away for few years, Britain reinforced their North American forces by teaming up with anyone who had a beef against the United States. That included militias from their northern colonies and Native Americans. They even adopted impressment victims — captured Americans forced to fight for the crown!
Additionally, British forces quickly found another group of Americans that might have a pretty good reason to defect — the slaves of America. As British ships raided US towns, they put out the word that any slave who made it into British hands would be a free man. And they kept their word.
Thousands of slaves escaped and resettled in British territories, and a few hundred even agreed to join the war against the United States. By 1814 things were going relatively well for Britain. British Forces managed to get all the way to Washington and burnt the White House to the ground, but when they made their big push to Baltimore, there was a hiccup.
The British fleet attempted to barrage Fort McHenry, but the fort held, which allowed the people of Baltimore enough time to set up defenses against the British attack. Francis Scott Key was on a British ship negotiating for the release of American prisoners and bore witness to the battle.
Once released, Francis wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, previously known as “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” based on what he saw during the battle. More than a century later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order designating “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem, and in 1931, the US Congress confirmed the decision. The tune has kicked off ceremonies of national importance and athletic events ever since.
The verse in the poem about the hirelings and slaves was talking smack about the black men who teamed up with the enemy and were beaten down. So, there’s most certainly a racist component but throwing out a jab about how you kill someone for having the audacity for not wanting to be owned by you indeed isn’t great.
Unfortunately, if you put a slight amount of research into early American history, you’ll find a lot of people who are racist, because back then the majority of the people were legit racist. Francis Scott Key was also a prosecutor who tried to get a guy hanged for having in his possession a pamphlet that stated enslaving human beings because of their color isn’t the best thing in the world.
I am sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but the American Founding Fathers and the authors of the constitution were mostly slave owners. Even the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance also wrote a little piece about the dangers of mixing with the “inferior races.” These guys lived at the time of the slave-owning united states, and that’s the culture that conceived the National Anthem we sing so proudly today.
So answering the question whether the national anthem is racist, the poem undoubtedly has a racist component because everything back in those days did.
Do we deserve a new national anthem? Let me know what you think in the comments.