Colin Kaepernick and the Legacy of the Negro National AnthemRoundup
tags: Francis Scott Key, Star-Spangled Banner, Colin Kaepernick, flag
The lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key embraced the pop cultural tastes of his day when he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” to commemorate an American victory over the British at Baltimore during the War of 1812. He gave his composition broad appeal with a melody derived from a popular British music club anthem that celebrated the virtues of love and wine.
Satirists pounced, lampooning the song with lyrics that depicted a man who staggers home drunk and sleeps well past “the dawn’s early light” — that light through which Key had seen an American flag still flying above the fort that had repulsed the British invasion.
Abolitionists during Key’s lifetime viewed “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they viewed the nation as a whole — through the lens of the injustice perpetuated by slavery. They argued that Key should have described America as the “land of the free and home of the oppressed.”
The professional football player Colin Kaepernick appealed to that same sense of injustice last year when he knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest police violence against African-Americans. By doing so, he tapped into a feeling of alienation from the anthem in the black community that dates back to the days of racial terrorism and lynching in the South.
Congress declared “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem in 1931. Well before then, however, black communities across the Jim Crow South were instead embracing the soaring, aspirational lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — otherwise known as the Negro National Anthem — which was sung in churches, at civic events and even in schools, where substituting the song for “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a quiet act of rebellion against the racist status quo....