One of the first times former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernic knelt during the National Anthem; Photo: YouTube/CBS
“This song is wrong,” chapter president Alice Huffman told CBS Sacramento. “It should never have been there, and just like we didn’t have it until 1931, it won’t kill us if it goes away.”
Huffman explained that the recent protests during NFL games, jumpstarted by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernic, led her to take a closer look at the lyrics to the National Anthem, specifically at the parts that are seldom heard. Huffman directed reporters’ attention to the third stanza, which includes the lyric, “no refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”
The full lyrics to the third stanza are:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution
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
Huffman elaborated on her request, saying that the lyrics can be interpreted as condoning the deaths of black American slaves fighting for freedom. “It’s racist,” she said. “It doesn’t represent our community. It’s anti-black people.”
The backlash has been swift. Veteran John Cox told reporters that changing the lyrics, “won’t solve any problem.” And while Huffman agrees that it won’t solve all the problems, she does believe that it is a step in the right direction — a step towards understanding and justice.
“This is not about the flag,” said Huffman. “We love the flag. This is about a song that should never have been the national anthem. This country is a country that has shared values, and the more we respect each other, the better off we’ll be as a country.”
This isn’t the first time a movement has been initiated to alter lyrics to a time-honored song. A member of the Canadian Parliament, Mauril Bélanger, introduced a bill to make “O Canada” gender neutral, and Ex Pat, Evgeny Kabanov (a Russian citizen who is in the process of undergoing Costa Rican nationalization), called for Costa Rica to alter their national anthem to include those of African descent.
The world is clearly in flux, and doctrines rooted in bigotry have no place in the new cosmopolitan. For those embedded in antiquated traditions it’s too much to bear, but the time for change has come whether they’re ready or not.