Wednesday, August 12, 2020
US flag

Using the national anthem in protest isn’t a new idea

The words and melody for the “Star-Spangled Banner” have long been subject to poets and protesters in this country, good, patriotic Americans exercising their right of free speech and, more broadly, freedom of expression.

In the above performance, posted on YouTube about three and a half years ago, bass Jean Bernard Cerin sings the powerful lyric written by EA Atlee in 1844, entitled “Oh, Say Do You Hear.” Mr Cerin is accompanied by Michael Carpenter.

So don’t think the current round of sports-related protests that use the backdrop of the national anthem is a new idea in any way. These kinds of activities have been going on in America, in one form or another, since way before the Civil War.

The performance shown above is part of the Star Spangled Music project, which produced a double-CD with 37 tracks of artistic performances of the national anthem—maybe not the actual anthem, but versions that have applied some poetic license.

Lyrics for 4 verses of 'Oh, Say, Do You Hear?'

Oh, Say Do You Hear (1844)

by E.A. Atlee

Oh, say do you hear, at the dawn’s early light,
The shrieks of those bondmen, whose blood is now streaming
From the merciless lash, while our banner in sight
With its stars, mocking freedom, is fitfully gleaming?
Do you see the backs bare? Do you mark every score
Of the whip of the driver trace channels of gore?
And say, doth our star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
Where Afric’s race in false safety reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it heedlessly sweeps, half conceals, half discloses?
‘Tis a slave ship that’s seen, by the morning’s first beam,
And its tarnished reflection pollutes now the stream:
‘Tis our star-spangled banner! Oh! When shall it wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

And where is the band, who so valiantly bore
The havoc of war, and the battle’s confusion,
For Liberty’s sweets? We shall know them no more:
Their fame is eclispsed by foul Slavery’s pollution.
No refuge is found on our unhallowed ground,
For the wretched in Slavery’s manacles bound;
While our star-spangled banner in vain boasts to wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

Shall we ne’er hail the day when as freemen shall stand
The millions who groan under matchless oppression?
Shall Liberty’s shouts, in our heaven-rescued land,
Ne’er be shared by the slave in our blood-guilty nation?
Oh, let us be just, ere in God we dare trust;
Else the day will o’er take us when perish we must;
And our star-spangled banner at half mast shall wave
O’er the death-bed of Freedom—the home of the slave.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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