Anthem debate makes adversaries sing

By Jessica Strand - Staff Reporter

Opponents of the national anthem say the song embodies the lack of rights and freedoms that so many American citizens of color have endured.

Others however say the song speaks to the sacrifices made by so many in preserving American liberties.

Highline Student Government hosted an information session followed by a forum yesterday afternoon to discuss the possible removal of the national anthem from commencement. Nearly 100 students, staff, and faculty attended the forum.

The discussion on whether the national anthem should be removed from commencement was ignited by James Jackson, the Student Government president, due to the original words to the song, and the racist views of the author of The Star-Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key.

In the third verse of The Star-Spangled Banner, which is not included in what is considered to be the national anthem, it contains a line that says: "No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave."

That line, combined with the fact that when the anthem was written it didn't include most of the African-American community, has made members of that community feel excluded, attendees at the forum said.

Student Government and club leaders will be voting on whether the anthem is removed from commencement during the council meeting on April 25 from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. in the Mt. Skokomish room in Building 8.

Anyone who wants to attend the meeting is welcome said Byron Patten, speaker of the caucus for Student Government and one of the presenters at the event.

The line in the third verse can be interpreted in different ways, Patten said.

One interpretation is that the line refers to the blacks who joined the British military because of the promise of freedom after the war.

"When the war began, the British saw a good war strategy in going with Americas enemies and that would have been their slaves, the indentured servants," Patten said. "Thousands of black slaves fought for the British and became free men."

Another interpretation is that "slave" was referring to members of a country who were ruled by a monarch.

"Americans commonly referred to their British counterparts as slaves under the crown. They weren't actually free," he said.

Or possibly Key was referring to the American soldiers who were captured by the British and made "slaves."

 "What that slavery meant is that they would be fighting for the British -- they would be recommissioned by the British army," Patten said.

An attendee who said he joined the Army almost 30 years ago said that the freedoms that white Americans have always had are natural laws, however, African-Americans had to be granted their freedom. He doesn't stand for the anthem, and he has a problem with the spirit of the song, he said.

"I have a problem with the whole thing because of the spirit it was written in," he said.

Another attendee said that he couldn't find a whole lot to be patriotic about in the United States, and that removing the Star-Spangled Banner won't do anything to improve the divide.

"I believe that removing The Star-Spangled Banner isn't going to do anything. … Starting at The Star-Spangled Banner is the least of our worries," he said. "I feel a lot of the constitution needs to be changed."

One attendee argued that the what is sung today does not include the third verse so it shouldn't matter.

"If that part of the anthem we're not using, I don't see too much of a problem, but I'm not opposed to it changing either," he said.

Another attendee argued that the first verse -- which is the only verse that is used for the national anthem – ends on a question and asks whether the flag is still waving?

"Every time we sing [the anthem] it asks a question that we should be asking ourselves," Vanessa Primer said. "We're at a dawning and we're asking ourselves what we have just been though. … This is a dawning of a new life for us.  Are we brave, are we free, is our home where it needs to be? … Isn't that a perfect thing to have at graduation?"

Another attendee argued that when citizens of a country don't take pride in their country, then the country is destined to fail.

"Other countries that don't take pride in their country, the country goes away," he said.

A faculty member, who is a refugee, said he would not attend commencement if the anthem was removed. 

"My national anthem is the USA [anthem]. … If that is not there [at commencement], I won't attend because that is not there," Savio Pham said.

Another attendee said the anthem should stay in, but if it is going to be removed, a new song should take its place.

"If you're going to repeal it you've got to replace it," Luke Field said.

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