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Here’s why some people think our national anthem is racist


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WATCH: A brief history of "The Star-Spangled Banner" 

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick caught a lot of flak recently for his decision to stay seated during the national anthem.

But the national anthem itself is controversial. 

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

So, what's all the fuss about? 

Francis Scott Key wrote the poem, originally called "The Defence of Fort McHenry," following an attack by the British during the War of 1812. He was inspired after witnessing an American flag flying over the fort the next morning. 

"The Star-Spangled Banner's" controversy is rooted in the song's lesser-known and rarely sung third verse.

"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."

There are a few ways to interpret this

As The Intercept wrote, "The Star-Spangled Banner" "literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans." In other words, it sounds like Key was celebrating all the slaves who died during the attack.


More likely, according to Francis Scott Key biographer Marc Leepson, Key was "expressing his indignation that enslaved people (and others) went over to the British side during the war."

Dr. David Hildebrand, music historian and director of the Colonial Music Institute,  agrees. 

"I think if others were to study the period, the context of the War of 1812, the language of its day, I just don't see how they would come to the same conclusion, that this is somehow against African-Americans in any way."

Hildebrand points to Key's track record on slavery. 

Francis Scott Key.jpg

 Francis Scott Key has a complicated record on race 

The man who praised the "land of the free" owned as many as 20 slaves. But as D.C. district attorney, Key also defended slaves and free blacks in court.  

He was also a member of the American Colonization Society, a group that sent free blacks back to Africa. Its supporters, including Key, said their efforts were helping end slave trafficking.

Abolitionists, on the other hand, said the undertaking was simply a way to purge the country of free black people. 


The slavery reference isn't the only point of contention 

The "Star-Spangled Banner" has been controversial since President Herbert Hoover designated it our national anthem in 1931.

Some have complained the song is too militaristic. Others say its lyrics are too hard to remember.

Music professor Dale McGowan summed up the criticism this way.  The tune is "aggressive, unsingable, relatively-recently-adopted, ill-constructed descendant of a raunchy bar ballad turned celebration of obscure military stalemate."

Whitney Houston - Star Spangled Banner

Decide for yourself with a Whitney Houston rendition. 

Do you think the national anthem is offensive?

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