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The Forgotten Verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

After what happened in Ferguson, I can't pretend the promise of that song extends to a black man like me - D. Watkins

Do you know all the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Many people have had difficulty memorizing the lyrics of the first verse of this song, which is what we usually hear performed at sports events and other public gatherings. What most people do not know is that there are three additional verses that we almost never hear? If you did not know, fret not, you are in good company. I honestly didn’t know before writing this story either. For that matter most people I have spoken to after I found out didn’t know either.

After watching an interview of Activist and Baltimore native D.Watkins who is also a professor on Your Black World, BW reported, D. Watkins – The Professor Wrote “F@%! The National Anthem”. In the interview Watkins is asked why he wrote the essay, which was published as ‘Screw The National Anthem,’ but in his book the real title appears. It talks about the climate and the time when the song was created and explains it wasn’t created for us.

In Watkins’ article he writes:

Some may reject the anthem because Francis Scott Key sang for freedom while enslaving blacks. His hatred even bled into the lyrics of the elongated version of “The Star Spangled Banner” you won’t hear at a sporting event. The third stanza reads …

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave”

That line was basically a shot at the slaves who agreed to fight with the British in exchange for their freedom. Who wouldn’t want freedom, and how could he not understand them opting out for a better life?

 

In 1814, the poet and lyricist Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” originally known as “Defense of Fort M’Henry.” During the War of 1812, Key witnessed the attacks on Baltimore and wrote the words based on his experiences this night. These lyrics were printed in local newspapers and set to the tune of an existing song called “Anacreon in Heaven,” and then officially arranged by John Philip Sousa. Key’s famous lyrics entered the world as a broadside ballad, or a song written on a topical subject, and printed for wide distribution.

More than a century later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order designating “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem, and in 1931, the US Congress confirmed the decision. The tune has kicked off ceremonies of national importance and athletic events ever since.

While the first verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is widely known by the American public, the last three verses are generally omitted in performances. Here are all the four verses, as they were written 200 years ago by Key:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner—O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“After what happened in Ferguson, I can’t pretend the promise of that song extends to a black man like me,” D. Watkins.

Watkins went on to write:

Others reject our national anthem for more contemporary reasons. Generation after generation of broken promises. It’s 200 years later and America still enslaves a tremendous amount of its population through poverty, lack of opportunity, false hopes of social mobility, unfair educational practices and the prison industrial complex.

I agree with those people, and I realized the horrific way our nation treats its minorities and underclass way back in my formative years; however, through all of that, I still gave America the benefit of the doubt. I still tried to give our nation credit for the progress we made in race relations, but fuck it, this Mike Brown incident is the last straw.

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About BWEditorInChief (33 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Author, Writer, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others. You can also hear AJ every Tuesday morning on The Bob Marrone show on WVOX 1460 AM
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