|A statue of Francis Scott Key vandalized in Baltimore|
By Walter Olson
Its third verse uses the word ‘slave,’ but it may not have referred to chattel slavery in the South.
By now you’ve probably heard the claim that America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is an expression of racial hostility toward African Americans and should be either retired or at least acknowledged as a subject of national embarrassment.
These reports appear to have influenced the act of vandalism in a Baltimore park this week, in which a statue of Francis Scott Key, the Maryland lawyer who wrote the words to the song during the War of 1812, was defaced with red paint and slogans including “Racist Anthem.”
But although claims of this sort have been circulating since at least the 1990s, it would not be fair to say that historians are of one mind on whether Key’s song was understood in its day to be making any reference to race.
Exhibit A in critics’ account is the anthem’s seldom-sung third verse, which gloats at
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