What Unites Us?
Gladys Knight, popularly known as the "Empress of Soul," was invited in 2019 to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. In an interview before her performance, she said (emphasis added):
"I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3, to give the anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life...I pray that this national anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us."
Watch Gladys Knight (below), then scroll down to learn a surprising fact about Francis Scott Key, who wrote the song.
Francis Scott Key's Fight to Free Slaves
In 1820, a U.S. privateer ship captured the Spanish slave ship Antelope off the coast of Florida. The ship was turned over to the US Government. On board were nearly 300 African slaves, many of whom were young teenagers.
Francis Scott Key, who wrote our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, was the attorney who fought for seven long years in the courts to free the slaves who had been brought in the Antelope. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. As noted by Jonathan M. Bryant in his 2015 book: Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope:
"Most startling of all, Key argued...that all men were created equal...If the United States had captured a ship full of white captives, Key asked, would not our courts assume them to be free? How could it be any different simply because the captives were black?...Slavery was a dangerously hot subject, but Francis Scott Key stepped deliberately into the fire.
“Key…unleashed all of his rhetorical weapons...This was a case he believed in and had worked personally to bring before the Supreme Court...Using clear precedent, poetic language, and appeals to morality, Francis Scott Key argued that the hundreds of African captives found aboard the Antelope should be returned to Africa and freedom. ‘United States law demanded it,’ he said. ‘The law of nations demanded it,’ he said. Even the ‘law of nature’ demanded it.
“Key looked into the eyes of the six justices sitting for the case, four of whom were slave owners, and announced that 'by the law of nature, all men are free.'"
Sadly, the Supreme Court did not free all the slaves. But a portion of the slaves were freed. They were returned to Africa where they founded the colony of New Georgia in Liberia. Key raised $11,000 to help them.
Francis Scott Key held these views until his death on January 11, 1843. Two years before he died, in the Amistad case, Francis Scott Key and John Quincy Adams worked successful in freeing 53 more African slaves.
The fourth verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner," our national anthem, expresses Key's feelings about our God-given freedom. The fourth verse reads:
"O thus be it ever when free men shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation;
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just;
And this be our motto 'IN GOD IS OUR TRUST'!
And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave,
Over the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
May our national anthem continue to unite us.