Student leaders at a high school in San Ramon nixed the national anthem at rallies, sustaining renewed debate over the song’s history.
Like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick silently protesting the song by simply kneeling, California High School quietly removed the “Star Spangled Banner” from its January rally, according to its student newspaper The Californian. Student leaders pointed to a gleeful verse — in the seldom-sung third stanza — about the death of freed slaves in their decision remove the song altogether for the rest of the school year.
The line in question says, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” As The Intercept reported, its composer and slave owner Francis Scott Key was inspired by the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, in which American slaves fought with the British for their freedom.
Put in context with the rest of the verse — “And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” — it sure sounds like their deaths were a point of pride. The school — which had racist graffiti in the bathrooms in 2016 — Associated Student Body picked up on the message.
“In the leadership class, [we strive on] being really inclusive and mindful of all the decisions we make,” leadership adviser Erin McFerrin tells The Californian. “We didn’t really know why we were doing [the anthem during] the rally, so we just thought it was something maybe we could take out.”
Some students didn’t seem to notice or care but some saw it as an affront to the military.
“I respect their decision to make the change and I understand why they did it, but I feel that the anthem doesn’t stand for that,” student Dennis Fiorentinos says to The Californian. “I feel that California High School honoring and respecting those who have died protecting our freedom is more important.”
Regardless, the anthem won’t play at rallies for the rest of the school year. But also like Kaepernick, maybe the debate will spread to other schools. Or maybe the U.S. could take a page in national-anthem adjustment from our neighbor to the north, which recently rewrote two words of “O, Canada,” to make it gender-neutral.