Monday, August 3, 2020
US flag

Statue commemorating national anthem defaced

A bronze statue of two children, paid for by the schoolchildren of Baltimore more than a century ago and located in Patterson Park in the city, has been vandalized, the Baltimore Sun reports.

(Friends of Patterson Park via Facebook)

Jennifer Arndt Robinson, executive director of Friends of Patterson Park, said the statue of children holding a scroll to commemorate the writing of the Star Spangled Banner had been damaged by paint. The words “Racist Anthem” were sprayed on a sidewalk near the statue.

“We were notified early this morning of the incident,” Jennifer Arndt Robinson, executive director of Friends of Patterson Park, was quoted as saying Monday about the defacement of the bronze statue commemorating the Star-Spangled Banner. “We are working with appropriate city officials to make sure it is addressed as quickly as possible.”

The Sun reported that the words “Racist Anthem” were also spray painted on a sidewalk near the statue and that city maintenance workers are working with the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

The calling of the national anthem “racist” is a reference to the third verse, which refers to slaves, although many people have called into question the precise meaning of Francis Scott Key’s reference to “the hireling and slave” in that verse. Let’s take a closer look:

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.

The fifth line of this stanza begins a new sentence, as Key wrote it. The second part of that sentence is independent of the first part, where the reference to “hireling and slave” is found.

That means it is only necessary to consider those two lines, and although they could be taken out of context and analyzed, the context was the War of 1812, when Key wrote the anthem.

Gary Nash’s book The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports, and the Origins of the American Revolution, published in 1986, says the practice of “impressment” was fairly common in the Royal Navy, and it reached a peak during the American Revolution, 1775–1783.

“All kinds of tradesmen and Negroes” were forced to work on board British warships during the Revolutionary War, with about 3,000 of them being rounded up when British soldiers cordoned off taverns and other gathering places for sailors in New York City at one point. The city at the time was still a British hold.

These men weren’t “hired” but had to work as slaves, even though many Britons thought the practice of impressment violated the British constitution.

In any event, the words of the anthem may refer to Americans, including blacks, who were forced to work aboard warships in the Royal Navy, as the practice continued throughout the War of 1812. Impressment essentially ended in actual practice after the Napoleonic Wars, or in about 1814, although the laws of Great Britain took several decades to catch up. The first law, passed in 1835, affirmed the legality of impressment but limited the length of time impressed servants could be forced to serve.

If it is the case that the words refer to impressed sailors, they would not specifically refer to slaves in the sense of those forced into servitude in the South. But whether the words refer to the Royal Navy or plantation owners, both are a part of history with which Americans today must reckon. Defacing a statue isn’t a discussion and doesn’t force a reckoning. All it forces is the spending of taxpayer money by a city and the taking away of that money for programs that would help people alive today, living in this very historical city.

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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