Troubling Origins of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for the national anthem in protest against U.S. oppression of “black people and people of color,” a concern underscored by the origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” writes Sam Husseini.

By Sam Husseini

As several writers have noted — before and after the furor surrounding quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” — the national anthem is racist. Specifically, the third stanza, which references the British offering freedom to African-American slaves who would join with them in the War of 1812, says:

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. Even less well know, the song originates in slaveowner Francis Scott Key’s “When the Warrior Returns” — which was set to the same tune. As Alex Cockburn, the deceased and much missed co-editor of CounterPunch, noted following President Obama’s much celebrated 2009 address in Cairo:

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“An early version of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ by Francis Scott Key, written in 1805 amid the routing of the Barbary states, offered a view of Islam markedly different from Obama’s uplifting sentiments in Cairo:

In conflict resistless each toil they endur’d,

Till their foes shrunk dismay’d from the war’s desolation:

And pale beamed the Crescent, its splendor obscur’d

By the light of the star-bangled flag of our nation.

Where each flaming star gleamed a meteor of war,

And the turban’d head bowed to the terrible glare.

Then mixt with the olive the laurel shall wave

And form a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.

“In 1814, Key rehabbed this doggerel into the Star Spangled Banner. So America’s national anthem began as a gleeful tirade against the Mahommedans. And, of course, every member of the U.S. Marine Corps regularly bellows out the USMC anthem, beginning ‘From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.’ “In short, America’s march to Empire was minted in the…

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