Friday, September 16, 2016

More On The National Anthem Controversy

I just did a piece inspired by reaction to Colin Kaepernick declining to stand for the National Anthem.  Although Kaepernick's stand or (unstand) is based on current issues, it has been followed on with concerns that the Anthem is inherently racist because of a reference in the third verse that might refer to men who escaped from slavery to fight for the British - the Colonial Marines.

I am really grateful to Steward Henderson for giving me a guest post on the subject.  Steward is a seasonal park historian at the Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park.  Steward does historic reenacting as a member of the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops. We met at the Chancellorsville Sesquicentennial  and again at the Grand Review in Washington.

Personally, I have never heard the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner sung by anyone.  I have always stood up and or saluted the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner - as well as My Country Tis of Thee and America the Beautiful.  In the organizations that I represent, I will always honor the American flag and say that this country is the greatest country on this earth.  However, I say that it is each person's right under the Constitution and the First Amendment to protest the National Anthem and the American Flag.

When I grew up in the 1950's and 60's, African Americans were overtly discriminated against and treated very unfairly in this country - in the North and the South.  The atmosphere in this country was much better in the 70's, up until about 2010.  I think that since then, with the growth of smart phones and more public cameras you have seen the treatment of some minorities deteriorate or their treatment has come into spotlight.  More minorities are aware of their rights and are more offended when they are not afforded the same protections as white Americans.  I must also say, many whites in this country are very cordial and friendly with minorities, therefore many people do not perceive that there is still a problem in the country.   In the near future this country will be more minority than white, therefore there needs to be a serious conversation about race and ethnicity. A conversation that has been partially debated over the course of this country's lifetime.

For the past 40 plus years, my circle of friends has been well integrated and I have enjoyed various successes and opportunities in my lifetime.  As a banker for over thirty-five years, I have a tremendous respect for the police, Secret Service, FBI, and security agencies.  During  my time spent in the Washington Navy Yard Chief's Club with my uncle, Master Chief ret. Alexander Steven Campbell and soldiers from all branches of the military, I gained a tremendous respect for the soldiers in our military branches.  Since I have moved to the Fredericksburg area, I have participated in programs with the law enforcement agencies here and respect them.  So, I have been treated well, but I know of others who have not been treated as I have been.  Therefore, I cannot tell them that they should act and think as I do.

I would try to put myself in their shoes or at least converse with them to find out what obstacles they have faced and how can their obstacles be overcome.  In some cases, their obstacles could be of their own making or it could have had obstacles put before them.  However, a dialogue to really address the problems of this country would be the best way to address the issues.  If the athletes and others protest the National Anthem, it does not mean that they are not good citizens or they do not love this country.  It means that they want this country to live up to what it stands for, not just for certain people but for everyone.  In this time of terrorism and the terrible rift between the right and the left of the political spectrum, we all need to be united Americans!  Regardless of party, race, or ethnicity, we are all Americans and should be prepared to do what is best for the country and not for the few.  If we do not come together as Americans, then this country can fall just as many previous empires have fallen in the past.

As you know I spend most of my time now discussing the Civil War, at work or as a living historian.  I talk and write about the Civil War; many people  - even in this day and time with all of the information available - still refuse to believe that slavery was a major cause of the Civil War.  We still have  harsh conversations about whether the Confederate battle flag should be displayed or if Confederate monuments should be maintained in public spaces.  We hardly discuss Reconstruction and all of the atrocities associated within that time period after the Civil War.  Some of the same things that were problems then are still problems now, because we, as Americans, never really discussed the problems and how to really solve them.   We as Americans have to be honest with ourselves, instead of being politically correct, we must say what we honestly feel.  Maybe then, can get to the heart of our problems and solve them.

Think of how much better this country would be, if all of us truly worked for what is best for the United States of America!  


I also got an opinion from another reenactor.  I met Michael Schaffner (second from left below) at the Harrisburg Grand Review Sesquicentennial.  My absolutely final Sesquicentennial event.  In 1865, although not 2015, black soldiers were excluded from the Grand Review in Washington, so Harrisburg had one.  Michael has portrayed different units over the years, but his role in the 54th Mass has made him quite passionate about the contribution of black soldiers to Union victory in the Late Unpleasantness.

First, I support the QB's decision not to stand because I think it's everyone's right as an American to [be an a$$hole, make a statement -- whatever you want to call it] and he's actually using his celebrity for a public rather than personal end.

Second, I don't feel the outrage over the "hireling and slave" passage, because I think it's just as likely that Key was referring to the British soldiers as the Africa American marines -- if anything he probably would just as soon pretend the latter didn't exist.  The British soldiers might not be literally mercenaries, but even in England they were more likely to be viewed as rum-sodden flogging magnets than as heroes.  Even Wellington referred to his men, at least in part, as "the very scum of the earth..."

That said, you don't have to get to the third verse to find the song offensive.  During the Chesapeake campaigns of 1813-14 some 30% of the population of Maryland were enslaved, with nearly another 10% free African Americans.  The portion was much higher in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.  Kent Island was in essence the first "contraband camp" where, under the protection of the Royal Navy, refugees from slavery could seek freedom.  It was from this population that the RN formed two battalions of black marines, who proved highly effective.
During the campaign, the British won nearly every fight, including the stand-up battles at Bladensburg and North Point, succeeded in burning the Capitol, and otherwise wreaked havoc.  They were rebuffed at Baltimore, but left fairly intact, and took away a number of newly freed black people to new lives in the West Indies.

Given all that, the very idea of the fight being between tyranny and "the land of the free and the home of the brave" is cringe-worthy in itself.  We were, by any objective measure, neither particularly free nor brave -- certainly not more than those two battalions of Royal Marines.

Peter J Reilly sometimes think that the real July 4th is the one in 1863 and that we should all start singing the fifth verse that was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

When our land is illumined with Liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

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