- Cedric RichmondChairman of the Congressional Black Caucus
Change America's National Anthem from "The Star-Spangled Banner" to "America The Beautiful." (A Civil Rights Issue)
Why is This Important?
Our national anthem is perhaps America's most important symbol of who we are and what we stand for. It achieves worldwide recognition by being sung at great national and international sporting events in “hit” versions by famous stars. And unlike our equally well-known flag it has words that SHOULD express to the world our highest ideals of democracy and what our beloved country stands for. Thus our national anthem should be changed for the following reasons:
1. The "Star Spangled Banner" contains “racism,” elitism and even sexism embedded in its third and fourth stanzas. These sentiments have no place in the national anthem of a democracy that claims that all men (and women) are created equal.
2. The only ideal or national priority the "Star Spangled Banner" spells out is military strength and victory. Nowhere in the anthem is brotherhood, national unity (E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One) or even a JUST and ETHICAL use of military power proposed .
3. "America the Beautiful" is a timeless anthem that expresses and celebrates the highest of all ideals - i.e. brotherhood within our borders, deference to our natural resources. and indirectly alludes to the safeguarding and conservation of our air, water, and land. And in its later stanzas it also clarifies just laws, heroism and patriotism.
I'll begin by discussing the first reason: The "Star Spangled Banner" contains “racism,” elitism and sexism.
Some Food for Thought
Consider the following two imaginative scenarios:
Suppose that there is a “racist” white supremacy room or “museum” area in a relatively unknown section of the U.S. Capitol Building that displays the confederate battle flag, along with more artifacts and documents that celebrate, honor and exalt the lynching, arson, bombing, cross burning and other "accomplishments" of the Jim Crow era and the Ku Klux Klan.
Or think about this, our Declaration of Independence opens with the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet imagine that further on in a hidden or obscure “footnote” of the document, there is a commentary, written in highly diffusive and difficult to understand legal language, whose TRUE meaning is the following:
The use of the term “men” only refers to those light-skinned people of European descent. It is obvious that our "red" skinned native Americans and our dark-skinned people of African descent are by nature vastly inferior and intellectually deficient “races” and therefore can never be allowed the equality and certain unalienable rights of those afore-mentioned people of European descent.
Would the above two scenarios be acceptable to you?
If not, consider this; Our official national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner" which was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 contains the following language in the infrequently sung third and fourth stanzas: STANZA 3: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.” (see the complete lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and “America the Beautiful” at the end of this petition.) In 1814, the only Americans (the “freemen”) who had full rights and could legally vote were “aristocratic” men of means, that is relatively wealthy “white” European-American male landowners - probably less than 10% of the adult U.S. population of that time. A “hireling” in 1814 means an average “poor” person, probably of European descent, willing to perform, for relatively small fees, tasks such as handy work, cleaning streets, stables etc. Basically, such a person would NOT have the means to own property and therefore would have very limited rights, certainly no right to vote and no “refuge” to go to. Should such a hireling try to escape his situation, he would thus probably lose almost everything and whatever home he had, but at least (according to these lyrics) he would apparently still have life! However, the African-American slaves, could not legally own anything, since THEY themselves were PROPERTY, owned and controlled by their “white” masters who certainly would not choose to lose their “property” and allow their slaves to leave in some “terror of flight” or even go to some elusive and/or non-existent “refuge.” Therefore, should a slave try to escape or change his situation, apparently the only possible result of this would be “the gloom of the grave.” (It is also painfully apparent that because of a slave’s African appearance, “the terror of flight” was almost totally impractical - that is he would most likely instantly be recognized as a runaway slave.)
These sentiments are fully confirmed by the beginning of the following fourth stanza: “Oh! Thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand.” Again, in 1814, the only Americans who had full legal rights and therefore the only true freemen who would forever “stand” were wealthy people (men only) of means, that is, as previously mentioned, “white” European-American landowners.
Thus, to translate these evidently elitist, sexist and “racist” concepts from our national anthem into a more contemporary and colloquial context:
If you're black, get back. You have no stance for advance
If you are a poor to average “middle-class” white, you might have some rights, but with only a slim chance.
If you are wealthy, of the male gender, and white, you ARE right and you shall have the LAST DANCE! . . .
And by an evil proclamation, this is destined to go on forever and ever and be our beloved nation’s INHERITANCE!
Perhaps now we can see that this is apparently a TRUE variation on the imaginative white supremacy themes of the confederate battle flag, Jim Crow, KKK area in the Capitol building or the dreamed-up “racist” commentary in our Declaration of Independence. We also can see that in Francis Scott Key’s “land of the free,” the “free” only includes around 10% of the white, male, adult population from his period (1814)!"
For those who might still question whether Francis Scott Key had “racist” tendencies consider this:
1. He was a founding and life-long member of the American Colonization Society whose purpose was to send free blacks back to Africa “where they belong.” Indeed Key remarked to a friend about slaves that had been freed “I can not remember more than two instances in which it did not appear that the freedom so earnestly sought for them was their complete ruin.” The insinuation of this is that blacks are genetically inferior and therefore irresponsible and intellectually unfit for freedom. Thus his “land of the free” in the Star-Spangled Banner evidently was for “white” people exclusively. Indeed, even today, certain white supremacists insist that blacks (including President Obama!) don’t share true “western values!” and therefore are incompatible with “higher” American culture and morality!
2. Key was a lawyer by profession who was appointed District Attorney for the City of Washington by President Andrew Jackson in 1833. As such, Key was a fanatical prosecutor of abolitionists and so-called “rebellious slaves.” For example he prosecuted Arthur Bowen, an 18 year old slave, who allegedly attacked his owner, Anne Thornton, with an axe while he was drunk. After much hysteria it eventually became apparent that Bowen was merely carrying the axe and never attacked anyone. Even his owner, Ms. Thornton testified that he never attacked, or even threatened to attack her or anyone else! Yet Key, under pressure from other hysterical “whites,” who had great paranoia of “rebellious” slaves, eventually successfully convicted Arthur Bowen to be hung for this so-called “offense.” Fortunately, just before he was scheduled to hang, Bowen was pardoned by President Jackson and was sold to a different and distant owner.
Along the same lines, Key used his position to suppress opponents of slavery by denying their constitutional first amendment rights of free speech and free press. Thus in the 1836 case against Reuben Crandall, a known abolitionist, who was accused of owning and passing out anti-slavery literature, which was somehow construed by Key to be a hanging offense, Key said the following:
"Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country, to permit it to be taken from you, and occupied by the abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the Negro? Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, are there laws in this community to defend you from the immediate abolitionist, who would open upon you the floodgates of such extensive wickedness and mischief?"
Now to discuss the second reason - "The Star-Spangled Banner" is an anthem of war, not unity and brotherhood:
Nowhere in this anthem is national unity (E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One) and the brotherhood of all Americans mentioned. Indeed it seems that military strength and victory is our ONLY important national ideal and priority as illuminated in the well-known first stanza. This first stanza basically describes war (rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air) and obvious American victory because our flag yet waves "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." At this point I will state my belief that a strong military IS currently a very necessary component to maintaining our freedom. I also believe that our troops and military personnel deserve our greatest respect and support for their heroism and dedication. It is apparent that there are very dangerous international dictators, demagogues, bullies, villains and terrorists that MUST be contained and controlled in order to maintain our freedom. Yet, WAR ITSELF IS HELL ON EARTH. It therefore should be at the indisputable TOP of every rational American's list of UNDESIRABLE human activities and MUST be avoided if at all possible! And this is the problem with having such an important national symbol as our present anthem which seemingly promotes war as our nation’s ONLY important priority. But what is even worse is that Francis Scott Key comes up altogether empty when he attempts to explain WHY we should actually GO to war. In other words, if the powers that be are going to send ANY of our citizens off to the horrors of war, there should be an EXTRAORDINARILY GOOD reason for the extreme sacrifice of these citizens! SO, not only does our author fail to deal with our ideals of the fundamental EQUALITY of ALL Americans as previously discussed, but his rationale for war is spelled out by his bombastic, convoluted and VERY DANGEROUS rhetoric in the fourth stanza: "Conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' " First, who or what decides “when our cause it is just?” And second, what right does America have to "conquer" ANY other nation? Especially in light of our own vast economic injustice, immorality, prejudice and ethical quandaries within our OWN politics and borders! Should not America instead focus on becoming a “beacon of light” of justice and equality to the world as opposed to being the militaristic “nation builders” or “world police?” AND what strange God DID our author put his trust in? Francis Scott Key proclaimed Christianity as his faith and Jesus’ teachings as his values. Did Jesus - The Prince of Peace - teach similar values and rhetoric? Unfortunately Key’s convoluted, twisted rationale has been followed at least twice in the last fifty years in Vietnam and Iraq with disastrous results.
When Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner” in 1814 he was speaking to the elite “white” people of that era and more specifically about the War of 1812. Like many from his period, he was a wealthy southern plantation owner who had the extraordinarily evil (by today’s standards) “racial” beliefs and prejudice of many in this slave-holding group. And his views on war and militarism were similarly colored by contemporary views of that specific war and era. Thus “The Star Spangled Banner ” is an antiquated “period piece” from that distant time. And why on earth should this stale, obsolete, “rust-ridden” relic be imposed on the American democracy of 2015? This is a serious civil rights issue. If America cannot even change its most important symbols, how can we ever expect our country to "clean up" or change its many "racist," sexist, and elitist laws, injustices and prejudices?"
"AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL"
In comparison "America The Beautiful," far more than any other well-known patriotic song, is a universal anthem that presents a vision for a mature, just, peaceful and compassionate nation. First it gives deference to the air that gives us life "O beautiful for spacious skies." Second it respects the fertile land that feeds us, O beautiful for "amber waves of grain" and "the fruited plain." Third, it gives deference to the water that engulfs us and also gives us food and life "sea to shining sea!" And fourth it exalts the spirituality and natural beauty of the land we occupy - “purple mountain majesties!” And finally, in order to sustain these magnificent God-given assets, it exhorts us to "crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!" To fully understand the breadth and depth of this anthem we must examine the full meaning of the term "brotherhood." One dictionary defines it as "a belief in, or feeling of, unity and cooperation among all people." Now, I interpret "all people" to mean; 1. all men AND women, 2. all "racial" and/or ethnic groups, AND 3. all age groups to and INCLUDING future generations. Therefore, to truly have brotherhood we MUST save this noble land with its grand possibilities and amenities for these future generations. Thus we must somehow conserve and return our air, water and soil to their original pristine state. And such issues as climate change, oil and chemical spills on land and sea, other air and water pollution etc. MUST be honestly and resolutely dealt with. And finally the following three stanzas of "America The Beautiful" not only reinforce the first stanza but give valuable added insight on laws and freedom (Stanza 2), defining true heroism (Stanza 3), and true patriotism (Stanza 4) (see the complete lyrics at the end of this petition).
For the past 35 years, the wealth gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 90 percent of Americans has grown exponentially! The richest 1 percent in the United States now has more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent. The gap between the top 10 percent and the middle class is over 1,000 percent. This ratio increases yet another 1000 PERCENT for the top 1 percent! This level of elitism is unprecedented in our history and the very dangerous result of this is that the wealthiest Americans now have vastly greater control over our policies and politics. Many of these “tycoons,” through various super-funded think tanks, advocacy and lobbying organizations etc., spend enormous amounts of money promoting their "special interests" by supporting political candidates who protect those “interests!” And they also spend enormous amounts to publically smear and vilify other candidates who oppose these “interests” and views.
Also, we must consider two recent decisions of the “conservatively” controlled Supreme Court. First, the Citizens United decision of 2010 which essentially allows almost unlimited amounts of money to be spent by wealthy corporations (including foreign corporations!) in support of select political candidates. That is this allows the very wealthy, through their corporations, to make limitless contributions to candidates that support their special interests! While candidates that support the interests of POOR and middle-class Americans (who are not CEOs or other higher-ups in corporations) have very limited or NO comparative financial support. Sadly, I feel that this is so-called “legal” manipulation on the highest level (Supreme Court) that seemingly enables the very wealthy the latitude to “buy” elections.
Second, the 2013 Supreme Court ruling against Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This essentially negates this heroically fought for act of 1965 (the "crown-jewel" of the entire civil rights movement!). Thus we now see a new, virulent attack on African-American suffrage. So far, this attack has taken the form of special and stringent voter ID laws, the elimination of early voting, severely reducing voting hours, redistricting, gerrymandering along "racial" and economic lines, and the unwarranted removal and/or moving of polling locations in African-American neighborhoods etc. Again, the ultimate arbiter of law in America, The U.S. Supreme Court has failed the people’s interests and sided with the wealthy tycoons (and “racist” America). Therefore again, I feel this is nothing but so-called “legal” manipulation on the highest level that enables the very wealthy to “rig” and/or possibly even fix elections! Thus the above, is not only designed to invalidate much of the black vote, but also to make it very costly and highly inconvenient for many poorer Americans - especially African-Americans to vote at all! By itself, this is reprehensible! But even more reprehensible and astounding, we are now apparently witnessing a blatant rise in the killing of unarmed African-American men and boys by police and other “security” personnel all across our nation from Sanford, FL, Ferguson, MO, New York, NY (Staten Island), Cleveland, OH (a 12 year-old boy - really!) etc. Unfortunately these police and others are rarely held accountable for these apparent murders. Indeed, it seems plausible that certain police today have become akin to the previous lynch mobs of the "Jim Crow" era (who also were rarely held accountable). . However on a positive note: A white North Charleston police officer in South Carolina has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, a 50 year-old black man on April 4, 2015 marking a remarkably swift move for justice in a fatal police incident. And more recently, Maryland State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, indicted six Baltimore police officers for their role in the death of Freddie Gray, stating at the time that even the initial arrest of Gray wasn’t legal because the knife he was carrying was not illegal, nor was it open and ready for use! Yet the jury is still out! Now we must await the actual verdicts in these police brutality cases to see if these charges are actually going to stick!
Indeed America today is dangerously close to the POINT OF NO RETURN of effectively selling out our vote and many of our other most essential freedoms. If these trends are allowed to continue much longer we will cease being a democracy and we will ultimately emerge as an elitist, "racist" plutocracy, i.e. A NATION PREDOMINANTLY DIVIDED AND CONTROLLED BY OUR WEALTHIEST TYCOONS! Fortunately we still have freedom of speech - which includes the right to petition our government! Along these lines, we also have the right to peacefully congregate and demonstrate in protest of these negative trends and injustices. Therefore, PEACEFUL, COMPASSIONATE PROTEST along with petitioning, wherever injustice is seen, is what we are morally obligated to do to save our nation! Indeed, one of the greatest all time American patriots said the following "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." and “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Today, the America we know and love is on the threshold of drowning in elitism, “racism” and vast economic injustice. Yet, metaphorically speaking, ALL Americans are travelers on the same ship. To keep this ship afloat and healthy, we must MONUMENTALLY CHANGE OUR HEARTS and contemplate, heed and ACT on the truth that all men are INDEED created equal and have certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yes, we must “crown thy good with brotherhood.” And we must urgently recognize that if we FAIL to do this, our beloved American ship will sink as assuredly as a great boulder recklessly hurled into the deepest, darkest part of the ocean! AND we shall "perish together as fools."
Thus we have a choice, to be fools and follow the apparent "racism," elitism, sexism and sham militarism of our current national anthem. Or save our nation by CHANGING OUR HEARTS and accepting AND acting upon the great wisdom of the timeless song that SHOULD become our national anthem:
"AMERICA! AMERICA! GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE, AND CROWN THY GOOD WITH BROTHERHOOD FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA!"
The Star-Spangled Banner (Lyrics by Francis Scott Key)
1. O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' 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?
2. 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.
3. 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 washed out their foul footsteps' 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.
4. O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved 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 preserved 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!
“America The Beautiful” (1913 version, Lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates)
1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
2. O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
3. O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine!
4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
- Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus
Change America's National Anthem from "The Star-Spangled Banner" to "America The Beautiful."
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