The American National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” has become a subject of controversy. Maybe it’s a sign of how divided we are as a nation.
Much of the criticism has centered on the third verse (which many Americans didn’t even know existed) in which the writer, Francis Scott Key, appears to be glorifying the deaths of American slaves who had joined the British side during the War of 1812.
There are those who say this changes the whole narrative of the song and the war itself. The song reflected Key’s joy that Fort McHenry near Baltimore had held out against a massive British bombardment on the night of Sept. 13 and 14, 1814. This came after the British had sacked and burned Washington, D.C.
In the new narrative, Key is glorifying the victory of a slave-holding nation over another nation that promised freedom for slaves. Thus, the whole Anthem is racist. America is racist for having such an anthem.
When the National Women’s Soccer League resumed play, it was during many of the demonstrations that occurred this past summer. The Chicago Red Stars wore their Black Lives Matter shirts and kneeled when the National Anthem played. A player who is black, Casey Short, began crying uncontrollably during the Anthem and was comforted by a white player, Julie Ertz.
Given all that had happened, some said the NWSL was cruel for forcing a woman of color to listen to an Anthem written by a slave-owner in a nation dominated by white supremacy. Over at The Young Jerks . . . er, Young Turks, Rick Strom asked if we could feel her pain. He said she lived in a nation where some people couldn’t say “black lives matter,” which meant she didn’t matter.
Some questioned why the National Anthem was played at sporting events at all. Other commentators said, given the racist nature of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” they would never stand for it or sing it again.
So, the thinking goes “The Star-Spangled Banner” is racist and should be dropped as our National Anthem.
However, what if “The Star Spangled Banner” could be rewritten? What if it could be changed to be a song of hope for our entire nation? Maybe it could be rewritten to reflect the hopes of all Americans of every color.
Believe it or not, there’s a verse that could be added to the Anthem that would be more reflective of what we want America to be. It’s actually nothing new. It’s been around for almost 35 years, but I’ll bet you never heard of it.
Claire Clonninger is one of the top writers in Contemporary Christian Music. She was commissioned to write a new verse for “The Star Spangled Banner” for the Statue of Liberty Centennial in 1986. The verse she wrote was combined with the first verse and was sung by Gospel artist Sandi Patty. There are several versions of it on YouTube.
Here is Clonninger’s new verse:
And still we can see
As the years have gone by
There’s a dream in our land
Like a flame that keeps burning.
And the lantern of hope
From the harbor still shines.
Those who seek freedom’s dream
To its light are still turning.
Now we look to the skies
And we lift up our eyes
For we know with the dawn,
We will see our flag rise.
And this is our Star-Spangled Banner unfurled
As a sign to the free
And a hope to the world.
I was moved when I first heard this. This is a song for all Americans. As far as I’m concerned, we can ditch Key’s last three verses and officially insert this one.
America is a work in progress. We are constantly striving to become a more perfect union. We may have a long way to go, but we have already come a long way.
Our nation is constantly changing. We learn and grow as a nation every day. We are not the same nation we were 50 years ago, and we will not be the same nation 50 years from now that we are today.
Perhaps our National Anthem could be changed to better reflect our people today. Clonninger’s verse should be added so our Anthem better reflects the desires of our people. It could again be the unifying force that it was for so long.
Americans are, if nothing else, hopeful and optimistic. We want to build a better, more just nation. We can’t do that if we’re fighting with each other. We can only do that when we come together as Americans.
Clonninger’s verse should inspire us all. It should be joined with the first verse to make “The Star-Spangled Banner” the Anthem for all Americans.