Former black astronaut and NFL player Leland Melvin promotes a misguided theme about slavery and the National Anthem in a letter to Pres. Trump. It's a theme that has been seconded by many black athletes in the NFL, including former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initiated a practice of kneeling during the National Anthem.
The gist of Melvin's argument is about a section of the National Anthem that is not really part of the song (lyrics) that is sung before games. It's actually the second verse that refers to the hireling and the slave that is thought to be evidence that Key was not against slavery. How it's interpreted should be embarrassing both to Melvin and all black athletes who don't respect the National Anthem.
But it is important because is shows that rumor and hearsay run rampant in our culture and even the news media. What is repeated by leftist pundits on CNN and MSNBC, as well as Democrats and liberal professors, is taken as fact by many. It's part of the theme that says if any of the founding fathers owned slaves, they could not have possibly been in favor of equality or freedom.
Here is part of his statement from his Facebook post:
"I believe in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution of this country even though at the time they were drafted, their tenets of life, liberty justice for all and eventual freedom of speech, religion, assembly, press and petition amendment ratified in Dec 1791, only applied to a select group of people and not ones that looked like me."
Other people take this qualifier further, stating that the U.S. Constitution was not written for blacks. The fact is that it was written with the mind that one day, people of all races, including those from Africa, would not be slaves, but free.
Slavery was not illegal in 1791
In fact, in 1791 there were no laws against slavery anywhere in the world. The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were the first documents that even suggest that slavery would one day be outlawed and that slaves would have the same rights as everyone else. Slavery was first outlawed in 1833 in England as a result of Christians activists there. Even in 1791, it was a radical concept, as was freedom from monarchies or kings.
But his complaint is with Trump. Melvin, with an engineering degree from the University of Virginia at Charlottsville, writes this:
“I used to walk the grounds of UVA in Charlottesville, VA as a graduate student only to watch in horror as those same grounds became a battlefield being trod by Nazi and anti-Semitic worshippers armed with assault style weapons ready to fight to make America White again.”
As an engineering student and astronaut, Mr. Melvin should know that facts are more important than perceptions. If scientists at NASA only depended on perceptions, it would not be safe to travel into space. It would result in disaster. The new movie Hidden Figures demonstrates that complex mathematical calculations were essential to space flight.
With that in mind, Melvin should know that the fighting did not result from Nazi and anti-Semitic people fighting among themselves. And they probably were not worshipping anymore than Black Lives Matter people worship when they take over public streets. The fighting was the result of people on both sides, including Antifa activists, attacking each other.
As well, there were people there who were not Nazi or anti-Semite supporters. Rather, they were there to support historic aspects of keeping the statue where it is. This group also had a permit that was approved by the City of Charlottsville.
One black man at the “event” is pictured with a homemade flamethrower that he was using to try to torch a white man. It's a hideous image. If the president is responsible for Nazi sympathizers, as Mr. Melvin claims, who is responsible for this black man and all of the hate coming from the Anti protesters?
Overall, it seems that people ignored divisive words that Pres. Obama used during his presidency. He was not held responsible for any kind of hate coming from Black Lives Matter activists or their incendiary comments and how they may have caused the death of police officers in Dallas. Obama invited members of Black Lives Matter to the White House. But somehow Trump is responsible for the events at Charlottsville.
“The strong contrast in language for a black man and a Nazi is very telling.”
The president did not call out any one athlete who did not stand during the national anthem. Neither was he responsible for Nazi sympathizers or leaders. He said an athlete should be fired. Kaepernick does not have a job. He does not have a contract. But let's be clear about language use by rap artists today in their lyrics. What he said was relatively mild.
Melvin claims that Key watched slaves fighting for the British and hoped for their demise. When did Key watch freed slaves fighting for the British? Where is the evidence for this?
“Our National Anthem has been edited to try not to offend, because when Francis Scott Key penned the song he watched freed slaves fighting for the British and wrote this stanza:
“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
I guess if I were a slave back then I probably would have done anything to obtain freedom from my American oppressors who were whipping, killing, raping, dismembering, hanging or releasing the dogs on people like me all under our Constitution. In 1814 former slaves fought with the British for their freedom from their American enslavers.”
This interpretation of the anthem is popularized by people like Jon Swartz of the Intercept to impute a kind of racial hatred toward whites in an effort to score political or racial points. It is common among liberals who would like to rewrite history. The idea is that every person who owned slaves did not believe in their freedom. Of course, this is not the case and is not historically accurate. It could even be classified as racist. It's as though if blacks had the opportunity to own slaves of a different race and it were legal, they would never do this. Read the lyrics from black rap artists. What do you hear when they talk about hoes and bitches? You hear people who treat others like objects or a commodity, something to be owned or used for one's own benefit.
Here is a quote from Schwartz' article:
“So when Key penned “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.”
Another popular article about the National Anthem is by Jason Johnson, a professor at an all-black college, who writes on the root. The purpose of the article, which is not well documented, seems to conflate and to create racial tension. He does a good job of that.
Johnson claims that Key was beaten down by Colonial Marines at the Battle of Bladensburg. The Colonial Marines were former slaves who served on British ships and were promised their freedom. While Key may have been serving as a lieutenant during the battle, most of the beating down was a result of a lack of preparation and tactical mistakes by American generals in the field. The Americans in the capital city were ill prepared for the possibility that the British might actually attack them as a result of earlier losses inflicted by the Americans during the Revolutionary War. There no evidence that Key himself had any contact with members of the Colonial Marines.
Here is a more historically accurate explanation for the hireling and the slave:
“The Star Spangled Banner lyrics “...and slave” is a direct reference to the British practice of impressment (kidnapping American seamen and forcing them into service on British man-of war ships). This was a important cause of the War of 1812.”
A hireling is a mercenary. But if someone is impressed to serve a ship, he is treated like a slave. He was expendable. This is the definition of slavery that is being used throughout the world today. This is not a mercenary. A mercenary is someone who is hired or paid to perform work. During the Revolutionary War, Hessian soldiers were hired as mercenaries by the British. The question is, where were the hireling and mercenaries Key was referring to? And were they kidnapped American seamen or former slaves serving on British ships. It's pure conjecture for someone to take a racial tone to this and say it was racist. You would think that Key wanted members of the Colonial Marines to be killed while serving the British.
Key was on a British ship HMS Tonnant to try to negotiate the release of prisoners of war. Because he knew the position of the British fleet, he was not allowed to leave the ship and had to watch the bombardment of Ft. McHenry.
Melvin is saying he would have fought against the colonies if it meant gaining his freedom. But the option to offer freedom to slaves to help fight the Americans was probably a tactical decision to help the British reclaim the colonies and kill Americans. Even when slavery was outlawed in 1833, it was still allowed in the East India Company (China and India) and in Ceylon and Saint Helena, an island off the coast of Africa. In other words, the offer for freedom was not some magnanimous effort to free all slaves everywhere in the British Empire. In fact, it was the British in general, who wanted to stop the slave trade. It was a white politician, named William Wilberforce.
The facts and Francis Scott Key
Key spoke about the horrors of slavery to the point that he was referred to as "The Nigger Lawyer." At the same time, he opposed the abolition movement. It's a strange contradiction. But it was not unusual during this period. Many people of influence excused slavery, and just as many people were against it.
Francis Scott Key:
He purchased his first slave in 1880 or 1801 and owned six slaves in 1820.
He set free seven slaves, one of whom continued to work for him as a foreman.
He represented several slaves seeking their freedom, but also represented slave masters seeking return of their runaway slaves.
As executor of an estate, he freed more than 400 slaves.
Key publicly criticized slavery's cruelties, so much that after his death a newspaper editorial stated "So actively hostile was he to the peculiar institution that he was called 'The Nigger Lawyer' .... because he often volunteered to defend the downtrodden sons and daughters of Africa. Mr. Key convinced me that slavery was wrong—radically wrong." In June 1842, Key attended the funeral of William Costin, a free, mixed race resident who had challenged Washington's surety bond laws.
At the same time, Key was against the abolitionist movement and in favor of African colonization. He was a member of the African Colonization Society and its predecessor, the influential Maryland branch, the primary goal of which was to send free African-Americans back to Africa. This effort ended when the freedom effort turned to abolition, and he was removed from the board.
The African colonization idea was not an unusual one; Even Pres. Lincoln suggested sending slaves to South America as a solution to slavery.
Key used his influence as U.S. Attorney to prosecute abolitionists in the colonies. In 1833, he secured a grand jury indictment against Benjamin Lundy, editor of the anti-slavery publication, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, and his printer William Greer. Lundy left town and Greer was acquitted.
In August 1836, Key agreed to prosecute botanist and doctor Reuben Crandall, brother of controversial Connecticut school teacher Prudence Crandall, who had recently moved to the national capital. Key secured an indictment for "seditious libel" after two marshals (who operated as slave catchers in their off hours) found Crandall had a trunk full of anti-slavery publications in his Georgetown residence. A jury also acquitted Crandall.
Taking people from Africa, as slaves, and transporting them to other parts of the world, was common in the 16th and 17th centuries and before then. They were transported to South America, largely Brazil, the Caribbean Islands and other areas of the world. Slavery was also common in Islam in Northern Africa. In the centuries preceding African slavery, Muslim pirates raided the coastal areas of Europe, capturing people who would become slaves or sold in a market.
Blacks and violence against women
As Well, Melvin claims that a golf ball hitting Hillary Clinton promotes violence against women. It’s a disjointed claim, especially in light of the fact that black entertainers typically call women bitches. There are countless lyrics that promote treating like whores, prostitutes, and calling them bitches.
In fact, one of the most popular black singers, Nelly, has a popular song that says, “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.” Other lyrics encourage attacking, raping or killing women. Where is the outcry from NFL players about these lyrics? Dr. Dre grabbed journalist Dee Barnes and punched her in the head in 1991. He apologized early this year, more than 25 years later. In the interim, he has been a highly respected and creative male rapper.
This is what he said seven months after the incident, in 1991: "I just did it, you know. Ain't nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain't no big thing — I just threw her through a door."
No one would claim that Melvin is responsible for the violent, hateful lyrics coming from black entertainers, or violence as a result of listening to them, or their behavior. Why then would the president then be responsible for a protest in Charlottesville? Why would Key be soley responsible for the evils of slavery because he wrote about the hireling and the slave?
“I believe in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of this country even though at the time they were drafted, their tenets of life, liberty justice for all and eventual freedom of speech, religion, assembly, press and petition amendment ratified in Dec 1791, only applied to a select group of people and not ones that looked like me.”
This is simply not accurate. There were many freed men or free men working in the north who were either of African descent, or former slaves. Some even lived under the protection of some of the founding fathers, include James Adams.
Again, there were no documents in the world in 1791 that declared human rights to every person, including being created equal, other than the Bible. It’s simply intellectually dishonest to look at the U.S. Constitution without examining rights in every part of the world in 1791.
In fact, all religious people in the U.S. did not have rights in the colonies. White people did not have religious rights. People who worshipped differently than the Church of England could be punished or killed. It’s simply selective history to look at the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights without examining other areas of the world where slavery existed or rights were limited or did not exist.
“Looking back at our planet from space really helps one get a bigger perspective on how petty and divisive we can be. Donald Trump, maybe you should ask your good friend Mr. Putin to give you a ride on a Soyuz rocket to our International Space Station and see what it’s like to work together with people we used to fight against, where your life depends on it. See the world and get a greater sense of what it means to be part of the human race, we call it the Orbital Perspective.”
Today, there are countries where slavery still exists. An estimate today says there are 30 million slaves in the world today. The rate of slavery is also alarmingly high in Haiti, Pakistan and India, the world's second-most populous country. In all three, more than 1 percent of the population is estimated to live in slavery. In one African country, Mauritania, four percent of the population, or one in 25 people are enslaved.
Russia lacks basic freedoms that Melvin exercises by criticizing the president. It’s not possible to write a letter to Putin like Melvin did to Trump in live in Russia without being either killed or placed in prison. One columnist was beaten for criticizing a Russian official. Another opposition politician opposing Putin was killed. Perhaps Melvin should spend some time as an opposition politician or columnist in Russia to help him appreciate his freedoms in the U.S. That's really what the flag and the National Anthem are all about.
© 2017 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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