News and Commentary

‘Activist And Journalist’: Let’s Replace National Anthem With ‘Imagine’
Founder BK Nation Kevin Powell attends NBAPA All-Star Youth Summit: Real Talk on February 13, 2015 in New York City.
Photo by Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images for BET

In an era in which some people are suggesting replacing “The Star Spangled Banner” because of its author’s history, a writer who is described as an “activist and journalist” by Yahoo News has his own choice as to which song should succeed America’s national anthem; John Lennon’s ode to vacuity, “Imagine.”

Kevin Powell, who has authored numerous books, produced programming for HBO and BET, and was a founding staff member of Vibe,  says of “Imagine” that it is “the most beautiful, unifying, all-people, all-backgrounds-together kind of song you could have.” Of “The Star Spangled Banner,” he has a far different perspective as he uses the opportunity to bash President Trump, saying:

The Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, who was literally born into a wealthy, slave-holding family in Maryland. He was a very well-to-do lawyer in Washington, D.C., and eventually became very close to President Andrew Jackson, who was the Donald Trump of his time, which means that there was a lot of hate and violence and division.

Powell cites Key’s history:

At that time, there were attacks on Native Americans and Black folks — both free Black folks and folks who were slaves — and Francis Scott Key was very much a part of that. He was also the brother-in-law of someone who became a Supreme Court justice, Roger Taney, who also had a very hardcore policy around slavery. And so, all of that is problematic. And the fact that Key, when he was a lawyer, also prosecuted abolitionists, both white and Black folks who wanted slavery to end, says that this is someone who really did not believe in freedom for all people. And yet, we celebrate him with this national anthem, every time we sing it.

The Yahoo article notes that Key prosecuted abolitionists and once stated that African-Americans were “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”

Historian and scholar Dr. Daniel E. Walker echoes, “I do side with the people who say that we should rethink this as the national anthem, because this is about the deep-seated legacy of slavery and white supremacy in America, where we do things over and over and over again that are a slap in the face of people of color and women. We do it first because we knew what we were doing and we wanted to be sexist and racist. And now we do it under the guise of ‘legacy.’” He adds, “Francis Scott Key, he was a big-time guy in terms of the American colonization of society. This was not just a person who just lived in the time period. This is a person who helped define the time period.”

Powell continues, “I grew up in hip-hop and I remember how people would criticize hip-hop for being violent. Yet ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is riddled with violence. How are you criticizing a rap song for being violent, but when we get to kindergarten, we are literally teaching children violence through song? I said, ‘I can’t participate anymore.’ So I stopped a long time ago.’”

He concludes, “If you really love your country, if you really are patriotic, then you criticize and challenge your country to be better and do better, not just reinforce things that actually may not be true for all people in the country. … Thatis what democracy is. If there’s a tradition that hurts any part of the society — sexist, patriarchal, misogynistic — then it’s time to just throw it away.”

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