This year 2019 as we approached the 4th of July with eager anticipation of what it meant in the past, what it means today and what we hope one day it will mean to ALL Americans.

So what does the Day mean to us? This year as we sat and watched fireworks bursting in the air, did we realize what we were supposedly actually reliving? When Keys scripted the song in 1814, he was not enjoying what he witnessed at all. He was being held under guard on a vessel. He had been listening to the real bombs bursting in air, and he saw the actual red glare of the cannons bursting in air. He could hear the bullets and the shells whistling in the air and landing in a destructive manner as Fort McHenry was being attacked by the British. He was not witnessing the American Revolutionary War however. The battle he witnessed was the British attack on Fort McHenry in the Baltimore Harbor, known as the Battle of Baltimore fought in 1814 some years after the American Revolutionary War which ended in 1776. The attack was so massive as he was listening that he just knew in his heart that the next morning he would see the British flag waving across the harbor. The last three verses of the National Anthem are rarely sung, if ever, and this one sums up Key’s view of what he witnessed while being held prisoner:

“On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,

Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,

What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,

As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,

In fully glory reflected now shines in the stream:

‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh, long may it wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

After the onslaught of missiles, bullets, and shells Keys made it through the night believing with almost certainty that he would look out and see the British flag waving, but instead he saw the haughty and arrogant enemies in silent repose. He continued to peer through the dark and after the dust and smoke settled, he saw the American flag with the stars and stripes fitfully waving. He could not see it fully at first but enough to know that it was our flag. He thought to himself ‘Long may it wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ The next verse sums up what could be considered his prayer for the nation.

“Oh, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-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

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The song was adopted as the nation’s National Anthem during President Herbert Hoover’s term in 1931. When the song was scripted it was not written for the National Anthem. So when we sing the song and emphasize “land of the free and the home of the brave,” we can say that the Civil War was over, at least, that part of the battle was over. Many times, we as Blacks do say, “Well I cannot sing that song with the vim and vigor that others do because when the battles were fought Blacks were still enslaved in this land of the free and home of the brave. We still had to fight for our freedom from a people who should have understood what having freedom was all about since they had fought so valiantly for theirs, but not so. Crispus Attucks, a Black man, was the first person killed in the battle for America’s freedom from England, but that was not sufficient for the Black man’s freedom. More blood had to be shed, and much more it was.

Each year we should remember the struggle and have a mind-set that this be our motto: “In God is our trust”: And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” for all forever more.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of American Connection for the Performing Arts Inc.

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