by Daniel Hathaway
During the recent demonstrations responding to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, a number of monuments were toppled that represented the racist history of the United States. Among them, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and elsewhere, statues memorializing Francis Scott Key were pulled down.
Key was author of the poem Defence of Fort M’Henry, inspired by the British bombardment in Baltimore Harbor in September 1814, that became the text of The Star-Spangled Banner. Joined to a tune by British composer John Stafford Smith, the song was officially adopted by the U.S. Navy in 1889 and became our National Anthem by resolution of Congress in 1931.
The problem with Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer and district attorney, is that he had owned slaves since 1800. While he went on public record to oppose human trafficking, he also represented the owners of runaway slaves.
The problem with his poem is that for 21st-century America, its sentiments seem less and less conducive to uniting a divided nation.